The Influences of Partner Accuracy and Partner Memory Ability on Social False Memories

By Numbers, Katya T.; Meade, Michelle L. et al. | Memory & Cognition, November 2014 | Go to article overview

The Influences of Partner Accuracy and Partner Memory Ability on Social False Memories


Numbers, Katya T., Meade, Michelle L., Perga, Vladimir A., Memory & Cognition


Published online: 18 My 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract In this study, we examined whether increasing the proportion of false information suggested by a confederate would influence the magnitude of socially introduced false memories in the social contagion paradigm Roediger, Meade, & Bergman (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 8:365-371, 2001). One participant and one confederate collaboratively recalled items from previously studied household scenes. During collaboration, the confederate interjected 0 %, 33 %, 66 %, or 100 % false items. On subsequent individual-recall tests across three experiments, participants were just as likely to incorporate misleading suggestions from a partner who was mostly accurate (33 % incorrect) as they were from a partner who was not at all accurate (100 % incorrect). Even when participants witnessed firsthand that their partner had a very poor memory on a related memory task, they were still as likely to incorporate the confederate's entirely misleading suggestions on subsequent recall and recognition tests (Exp. 2). Only when participants witnessed firsthand that their partner had a very poor memory on a practice test of the experimental task itself were they able to reduce false memory, and this reduction occurred selectively on a subsequent individual recognition test (Exp. 3). These data demonstrate that participants do not always consider their partners' memory ability when working on collaborative memory tasks.

Keywords Group memory * False memory

Despite common misconceptions of memorial accuracy, research suggests that reconstructions of the past are often unreliable. We forget information, confuse aspects of different events, and critically, we are influenced by what other people say. Research on social false memory suggests that when another person recollects inaccurate details about a shared event, individuals often incorporate those inaccurate suggestions into their own memories (e.g., Roediger, Meade, & Bergman, 2001; Wright, Self, & Justice, 2000; see Harris, Paterson, & Kemp, 2008; Hirst & Echterhoff, 2012; and Rajaram, 2011, for reviews). Importantly, research on social false memory typically embeds only a small proportion of erroneous details into the total suggestions made by one's partner. The implicit assumption is that memories are fairly accurate, and so to avoid participant suspicion, the experimenter must slip in relatively few incongruent items. But is this really the case? In the present study, we examined how the proportion of inaccurate items suggested by one's partner influences the likelihood that individuals will falsely remember inaccurate partner suggestions.

Social false-memory paradigms that utilize low proportions of inaccurate suggestions include the memory conformity paradigm and the social contagion paradigm (see, too, the related misinformation paradigm; e.g., Loftus, Miller, & Bums, 1978). In the memory conformity paradigm, participants are presented with images of an event (e.g., 21 pictures depicting a wallet theft; Wright et al., 2000). Of these images, 20 are identical between participants, and one critical image differs between participants (e.g., an accomplice was present or not present at the time of the robbery). In the social contagion paradigm (Roediger et al., 2001), participants study images of household scenes and then recall the scenes in collaboration with a confederate, who introduces both correct and incorrect items. Specifically, the confederate "recalls" 36 items in collaboration with the participant, and only six (or 17 %) are incorrect. Research in both paradigms has demonstrated that participants are likely to incorporate these small percentages of suggested erroneous items into their subsequent individual recall and/or recognition tests (e.g., Allan & Gabbert, 2008; Bodner, Musch, & Azad, 2009; Davis & Meade, 2013; Gabbert, Memon, & Allan, 2003; Gabbert, Memon, Allan, & Wright, 2004; Huff, Davis, & Meade, 2013; Skagerberg & Wright, 2008; Wright et al. …

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