"The internet is such a powerful environment, where you can enter any question, and you basically have access to the world's knowledge at your fingertips," said lead researcher Matthew Fisher from Yale University.

In the study, participants rated their ability to explain the answers to common questions (for example, how do zippers work?) after either searching the internet to confirm their explanation, or being specifically instructed not to use it.

Participants who searched the internet in the induction phase rated themselves as being able to give better explanations than participants who were not allowed to search the internet.

This result was obtained even when participants in the internet condition were given a specific web source to find and participants in the no internet condition were shown text from that same website.

In other words, searching for explanations online led to increases in self-assessed knowledge even when both groups had access to the same explanatory content.

"It becomes easier to confuse your own knowledge with this external source. When people are truly on their own, they may be wildly inaccurate about how much they know and how dependent they are on the internet," Fisher explained.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.