Many home buyers and sellers scour the Internet for real estate information, but could all that searching over the Web then make them overconfident in their knowledge? It may not just be real estate searches: Any type of Internet search may encourage some people to overestimate how much they actually know.
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A new study from Yale University suggests that people tend to feel a lot smarter than they really are when they search for information online. In nine experiments of more than 1,000 participants, Yale psychologists found that participants who retrieved information through Internet searches tended to rate their knowledge base much higher than those who retrieved the information through other methods. The study was published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
“This was a very robust effect, replicated time and time again,” Matthew Fisher, the lead author of the study, said in a press release. “People who search for information tend to conflate accessible knowledge with their own personal knowledge.”
In one experiment, study participants were asked to search online for the answer to the following question: “How does a zipper work?” Those who searched the Internet for the answer rated their knowledge significantly higher than a control group who was provided a text version of the answer. Notably, researchers point out that there was no difference that existed among the groups prior to the experiment. But Internet searchers were overly confident even when the full answer to their question wasn’t uncovered in their online search, according to the study.
“The cognitive effects of ‘being in search mode’ on the Internet may be so powerful that people still feel smarter even when their online searches reveal nothing,” says Frank Keila professor of psychology and linguistics and a senior author in the study. For the younger generation, the effect may be even stronger with “the cell phone almost like an appendage of their brain,” Keila adds.