Behavioural and brain responses related to Internet search and memory (2015)

Eur J Neurosci. 2015 Oct;42(8):2546-54. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13039.

Dong G1, Potenza MN2.


The ready availability of data via searches on the Internet has changed how many people seek and perhaps store and recall information, although the brain mechanisms underlying these processes are not well understood. This study investigated brain mechanisms underlying Internet-based vs. non-Internet-based searching.

The results showed that Internet searching was associated with lower accuracy in recalling information as compared with traditional book searching. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, Internet searching was associated with less regional brain activation in the left ventral stream, the association area of the temporal-parietal-occipital cortices, and the middle frontal cortex.

When comparing novel items with remembered trials, Internet-based searching was associated with higher brain activation in the right orbitofrontal cortex and lower brain activation in the right middle temporal gyrus when facing those novel trials. Brain activations in the middle temporal gyrus were inversely correlated with response times, and brain activations in the orbitofrontal cortex were positively correlated with self-reported search impulses.

Taken together, the results suggest that, although Internet-based searching may have facilitated the information-acquisition process, this process may have been performed more hastily and be more prone to difficulties in recollection. In addition, people appear less confident in recalling information learned through Internet searching and that recent Internet searching may promote motivation to use the Internet.

KEYWORDS: internet search; learning; long-term memory; memory; search impulse