Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Repeated Idea Elaboration on Unconscious Plagiarism

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Repeated Idea Elaboration on Unconscious Plagiarism

Article excerpt

Unconscious plagiarism occurs in a recall task when someone presents someone else's idea as his or her own. Recent research has shown that the likelihood of such an error is inflated if the idea is improved during the retention interval, but not if it is imagined. Here, we explore the effects of repeating the elaboration phase during the retention interval. Participants in a group first generated alternate uses to common objects before elaborating the ideas either by imagining them or by improving them. This elaboration phase occurred once, twice, or not at all. Later, they attempted to recall their original ideas and generate new ideas. Repeated imagery did not inflate unconscious plagiarism on either task. In contrast, repeating the improvement phase increased plagiarism to dramatically high levels in the recall task. The latter effect might be particularly pertinent to real-world cases of plagiarism in which the ideas under dispute have been the subject of creative development over many occasions.

In everyday life, individuals are continuously exposed to information from a host of different sources, such as friends, family, and the media. Often, remembering the precise source of information is not important, but on occasion it can be crucial. For instance, when someone is engaged in a creative pursuit, it is important for copyright purposes that they recall the source of prior information to prevent its being incorrectly presented as new. Working life often involves problem solving approached collaboratively with colleagues, but problems may arise later when the ownership of an idea that has been generated is in dispute (Carroll & Perfect, 2002). There have been both anecdotal accounts and legal cases hi which the original sources of ideas have been disputed and individuals have been acknowledged to have unconsciously plagiarized earlier works (Taylor, 1965). In the present work, we seek to determine the factors that may lead to such errors when people attempt to remember the source of an idea.

Brown and Murphy (1989) developed an experimental paradigm to examine the psychological mechanisms through which unintentional plagiarism occurs. The overwhelming body of subsequent research has utilized this three-phase paradigm. Initially, in the generation phase, a group of 4 participants took turns producing category exemplars (e.g., fruits), trying not to repeat any response given by another participant. At test, the participants attempted to recall their ideas without producing any idea generated by another group member (the recall-own phase) and then generated further new ideas, making sure that they did not repeat any previously given answer (the generatenew phase). Unconscious plagiarism was observed in all the tasks, with the highest rates in the recall-own and the generate-new tasks (7%-14%; Brown & Murphy, 1989).

Unconscious plagiarism has since been obtained using a wide variety of materials and procedures, and various factors have been shown to alter the rate of plagiarism. For instance, using real categories during generation elicits more plagiarism than does using fictitious ones (Bredart, Lampinen, & Defeldre, 2003; Brown & Murphy, 1989; Macrae, Bodenhausen, & Calvini, 1999; Tenpenny, Keriazakos, Lew, & Phelan, 1998). Similarly, orthographic categories produce more plagiarism than semantic categories (Brown & Murphy, 1989). Imposing a retention interval between generation and testing also increases the likelihood of such errors (e.g., Brown & Halliday, 1991; Marsh & Bower, 1993). Plagiarism has also been detected across a range of more creative tasks, such as finding solutions to word puzzles (Marsh & Bower, 1993; Marsh & Landau, 1995), brainstorming ideas to solve problems (Landau, Marsh, & Parsons, 2000; Marsh, Landau, & Hicks, 1997), generating alternate uses of common items (Stark & Perfect, 2006; Stark, Perfect, & Newstead, 2005), and drawing novel space creatures (Marsh, Landau, & Hicks, 1996). …

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