Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Priming Correct Information Reduces the Misinformation Effect

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Priming Correct Information Reduces the Misinformation Effect

Article excerpt

Published online: 29 February 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract The misinformation effect is a well-established phenomenon in the false memory literature, although the mechanisms that underlie it are debated. In the present study, we explored one aspect of the controversy, the fate of the original memory. We began from an activation-based view of memory, capitalizing on the well-understood processes of associative priming and spreading activation, to test the hypothesis that true and suggested information can coexist in memory. After exposure to misinformation, participants were unknowingly primed with associates of either the true or a suggested item. Misled participants who were primed for the true item performed better on a final memory test than did misled participants primed for neutral information. The results indicated that true and suggested information coexist and that retrieval is influenced by each concept's activation level at test. Implications for theories of the misinformation effect were discussed.

Keywords Activation . Coexistence . Misinformation effect . Priming . Retrieval fluency

Decades of research on memory impairment have made the malleability of memory an accepted fact. The misinformation effect, in particular, has seen extensive coverage in the false memory literature (see Loftus, 2005, for review). This effect refers to the phenomenon in which participants change their reports of an event after misleading information about the event has been introduced (Loftus, 1991). Although it is widely accepted that the misinformation effect occurs under many conditions, researchers are still debating its possible explanations. In the present research, we approach the study of the misinformation effect froman activation-based perspective. That is, we begin with a theoretical view that assumes spreading activation between related concepts and that capitalizes on this process to reveal memory coexistence. If true and suggested information coexist, it is reasonable to assume that, through associative priming, spreading activation could activate one memory over the other. Specifically, activating concepts related to true or suggested information should serve to decrease or increase, respectively, the strength of misinformation effects.

Loftus, Miller, and Burns (1978) laid the foundation for what is now known as the misinformation paradigm. They had participants watch a slideshow, and then introduced misleading information about the slideshow via a questionnaire and gave a forced choice memory test between the true and suggested information. A control group performed significantly better than the misled group on the final memory test (Loftus et al., 1978). The researchers concluded that introducing misleading information to a witness after an event increases the likelihood of the witness later recalling the misleading information as truth. This general paradigm has been extended and replicated many times (see Loftus, 2005, for a review).

Competing Theories

Though the misinformation effect has been replicated extensively, the phenomenon is not well understood, despite numerous attempts to account for the findings. The destructiveupdating hypothesis proposes that previously stored memories are completely overwritten by postevent information (Loftus, Schooler, & Wagenaar, 1985). The idea here is that the misleading information replaces or supplants a true memory, and thus that the suggested memory is the only one available at the time of test. Alternatively, in what has been termed the strategic- effects account, McCloskey and Zaragoza (1985a) reasoned that many participants may not have encoded the original event, and while some may resort to simple guessing, others may remember the misinformation and choose that at test. Moreover, of those who remember both the original and the suggested information, some may be biased toward the misinformation at test due to experimenter demands. …

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