Short-term Internet search using makes people rely on search engines when facing unknown issues

PLoS One. 2017 Apr 25;12(4):e0176325. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176325. eCollection 2017.


The Internet search engines, which have powerful search/sort functions and ease of use features, have become an indispensable tool for many individuals. The current study is to test whether the short-term Internet search training can make people more dependent on it. Thirty-one subjects out of forty subjects completed the search training study which included a pre-test, a six-day's training of Internet search, and a post-test. During the pre- and post- tests, subjects were asked to search online the answers to 40 unusual questions, remember the answers and recall them in the scanner. Un-learned questions were randomly presented at the recalling stage in order to elicited search impulse. Comparing to the pre-test, subjects in the post-test reported higher impulse to use search engines to answer un-learned questions. Consistently, subjects showed higher brain activations in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in the post-test than in the pre-test. In addition, there were significant positive correlations self-reported search impulse and brain responses in the frontal areas. The results suggest that a simple six-day's Internet search training can make people dependent on the search tools when facing unknown issues. People are easily dependent on the Internet search engines.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Internet*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Search Engine*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

Dr. Dong was supported by National Science foundation of China (31371023), and funded by the Open Research Fund of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning (CNLYB 1207). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.