Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Social Pressure on False Memories

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Social Pressure on False Memories

Article excerpt

The present experiments were designed to examine the effects of social pressure on false memories. Participants studied lists created to elicit false memories and then worked in conjunction with virtual confederates on a recognition memory task. In Experiment 1, participants worked with one or two confederates to complete multiple study-test trials. On the group tests, participants were implicitly pressured to recognize words that did not appear on the studied lists. Experiment 2 was implemented similarly, but utilized a presumably more difficult recognition test involving one long study phase followed by one long test phase. After the purported group tests in both experiments, participants completed surprise individual recognition tests. In both experiments, social pressure influenced participants' responses on group recognition tests and subsequent individual recognition tests. Furthermore, the results indicated that social pressure affected both veridical memories and false memories.

It has been known for many years that social influences are capable of influencing memory performance (see, e.g., Alien & Bragg, 1968; Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; see Weldon, 2001, for a review). Recently, a number of studies have demonstrated a range of situations in which such effects have been observed (e.g., Bless, Strack, & Walther, 2001; Reysen, 2003; Schneider & Watkins, 1996). The majority of these studies have employed either a collaborative inhibition paradigm (e.g., Basden, Basden, Bryner, & Thomas, 1997; Weldon & Bellinger, 1997) or a social contagion paradigm (e.g., Roediger, Meade, & Bergman, 2001). In studies examining collaborative inhibition, group recall is typically worse than the pooled recall of an equal number of participants working alone (Weldon & Bellinger, 1997). In studies employing a social contagion paradigm (Basden, Reysen, & Basden, 2002; Betz, Skowronski, & Ostrom, 1996; Bless etal., 2001; Huffman, Granhag, see, & Loftus, 2001 ; Meade & Roediger, 2002; Mudd & Govern, 2004; Roediger et al., 2001), participants complete memory tests in the presence of a confederate who provides misleading information. Later, participants are tested individually and often incorporate some of the misleading information provided by the confederate into their own version of events.

Studies employing a social contagion paradigm provide valuable insights into the manner in which participants incorporate into their own memory reports memories purportedly produced by others. However, despite the fact that many social contagion studies are framed, at least in part, in the context of traditional conformity experiments (e.g., Asch, 1952; Sherif, 1937), researchers have largely ignored the effects of social pressure on memory performance. More specifically, the majority of studies examining social influences on memory performance have failed to place any explicit or implicit pressure on the participant to incorporate the confederate's version of events into the participant's own memory report. Instead, such studies typically provide the participant with additional, sometimes misleading, information regarding an original event, and subsequently examine the impact of that misleading information on participants' later memory performance.

The few studies that have examined the effects of social pressure on memory performance have demonstrated that such pressure can affect performance. For example, Schneider and Watkins (1996) examined the effects of social pressure on recognition judgments. Participants studied a list of words and then completed a recognition test with the assistance of a confederate. For each word on the recognition test, both the participant and the confederate determined whether a target item was on the original list or not. Sometimes the participant responded first; at other times the confederate did. When the participant responded second, he or she presumably faced some degree of implicit pressure to agree with the confederate's responses, which were manipulated through subtle cues provided by the experimenter; sometimes, however, the confederate intentionally responded incorrectly. …

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