Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Habitual Acceptance of Misinformation: Examination of Individual Differences and Source Attributions

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Habitual Acceptance of Misinformation: Examination of Individual Differences and Source Attributions

Article excerpt

This study identifies individuals who are habitually susceptible to accepting postevent misinformation across testing on three separate events. The results indicate that those individuals identified as habitually susceptible exhibited higher dissociation scores and less of an association between memory accuracy and confidence than did the individuals identified as nonhabitually susceptible. When they were asked to identify the source of the remembered information, similar patterns of source attributions were found for all individuals when they were responding correctly and incorrectly to nonmisinformation and when they were correctly rejecting items of misinformation. Importantly, from a source-monitoring perspective, individuals identified as habitually susceptible demonstrated a different pattern of source attributions than did those classified as nonhabitually susceptible when they were accepting misinformation. Habitually susceptible individuals were as likely to attribute the source of their memory incorrectly to something seen in the experienced event as to attribute it correctly to something read after the fact.

In most eyewitness memory studies in which the misinformation effect has been investigated, the standard paradigm developed by Loftus and colleagues (e.g., Loftus, 1975; Loftus, Miller, & Burns, 1978; Loftus & Palmer, 1974) has been employed. This three-stage paradigm consists of an event-witnessing stage, followed by suggestive misleading postevent information and then a memory test designed to determine whether the participants have accepted the suggested misinformation as part of their memory for the original witnessed event. In general, studies in which this paradigm has been employed have consistently shown that a proportion of individuals exposed to misinformation are more likely to respond in a manner consistent with the misinformation, in comparison with individuals not exposed to misinformation.

Much of the past research on the misinformation effect was directed at discerning various factors that can increase or decrease an individual's susceptibility to misinformation. For example, the wording of misinformation (e.g., Loftus & Palmer, 1974), a prior warning of the presence of misinformation (e.g., Greene, Flynn, & Loftus, 1982), and suggesting misinformation that is blatantly false (e.g., Tousignant, Hall, & Loftus, 1986) have been shown to influence misinformation acceptance. The focus of this article is somewhat different: identifying individual differences associated with people who have a propensity to repeatedly accept misinformation as having occurred in previously witnessed events. Of special interest is whether individuals identified as habitually susceptible to misinformation acceptance differ from nonsusceptible individuals on their monitoring of the source of the misinformation.

A generally agreed upon explanation for the results from misinformation effect studies is provided by the source-monitoring framework proposed by Johnson, Hashtroudi, and Lindsay (1993; see also Johnson & Raye, 1981; Mitchell & Johnson, 2000). Within this framework, memories are the result of processes by which mental experiences are attributed to sources. These attributions are sometimes erroneous, because the distributions of the various features of information from different sources overlap and because other factors (e.g., prior knowledge, beliefs, desires, and so on) influence memory attributions. Therefore, factors that increase the overlap between the memories from various sources (e.g., vivid imagery would increase the overlap between perceived and imagined events), that reduce the criteria required for attributions to a particular source (e.g., a desire to believe that a particular source was the origin or a susceptibility to social influence), or that contribute supporting evidence (e.g., activated schemas or stereotypes) would tend to increase source errors. …

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