WASHINGTON -- Researcher Betsy Sparrow was watching the 1944 movie Gaslight one evening and wondered who the actress was playing the maid. So she reached for her computer and Googled it.
That set Sparrow to thinking, before the internet, how did we answer these questions?
The internet has taken a major place in the circle of friends where people look for information, she concluded in last week's online edition of the journal Science.
It used to be folks turned to friends -- someone who knows all about baseball, or the weather or presidents or movies. People knew who to ask.
Now, Sparrow found in a series of experiments, people are more likely to know where to look for the information on the internet.
If they expect something to remain easily available, they are more likely to remember where they found the information than the information itself, she discovered. But if they don't think it will be easy to find again they are more likely to remember the information itself.
It's called "transactive memory," a theory developed about 25 years ago by her co-author, Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard University, in which group of people collectively store and retrieve knowledge with each member of the group contributing.
Today isn't much different, just with the computer as part of the group, she said. And, folks forget, there are people behind the internet, that's where the information comes from, she noted. And often with more than one source available, added Sparrow, a Columbia University psychology professor.
Using the internet "does not mean we're becoming less intelligent," she said, but that we are becoming pretty sophisticated at finding the best information.
Oh, by the way, the part of the maid was Angela Lansbury's screen debut.