Misinformation Effect

The misinformation effect happens when our recall of episodic memories become less accurate because of post-event information (Wayne, 2010). In other words, the information presented after we encode an event can change how the event is later recalled. People believe false material presented to them by the media every day, and many criminals are prosecuted on the foundation of eyewitness testimony. Loftus and colleagues studied the misinformation effect in which they had participants look at a series of pictures that followed a car as it stops, turns, and then crashes (1978). One group was asked if the car stopped at the stop sign, while the other group was asked if the car stopped at the yield sign. An interesting fact about this study is that each participant’s answer depended on which question they heard immediately following the accident. So when we recall information, there is a possibility that the misleading post-event information changes our memory entirely. We were given examples in our textbook and commentary readings, and given this recently learned knowledge, it wasn’t hard to find a false memory of my own.


            Elizabeth Loftus’ game of “Remember when…” influenced me to analyze some of my own childhood memories. I recalled a young memory of sitting on a bee while trying to use a slide at my grandparent house that caused enormous pain. Keep in mind, I was little. This event caused me to be afraid of bees and wasps most of my younger years, and was brought up jokingly every time I had an encounter with the insect. Many times I recalled this memory, not to mention my family always added new details to embarrass me, and it even led to as my mom telling me that’s how I got my birthmark on my lower back. But as I grew older, I understandably learned that a birthmark usually appears shortly after birth and it nothing more than an overgrowth of blood vessels, NOT caused by the sting by a bee. Although this was a humorous memory to recall, and repeat thanks to the sense of humor of my relatives, it seems I based this memory on inferences that I took from schemas or scripts. These mental structures are used to organize our knowledge of events and in this situation implanted details of this memory that in fact did not exist. I called my grandmother who happened to video tape every childhood moment and asked if she had documented this infamous bee experience. I had to ask myself if this memory was real or is it possible that I created it.

Just like Wade and colleagues (2002) who used a procedure of creating fake childhood photographs of events such as taking a hot air balloon ride and asking family members if they recalled the event even though it never happened. Shockingly, 50% of individuals recalled the counterfeit event. We have learned in this course that memory is an assembly of details we build in our own mind. False memories are common and can form quite effortlessly, even grow more convincing as time elapses.  Well in conclusion, my grandmother sent me the videotape, there was in fact a slide that I loved to play on, and there was a bee, but in no way did I “sit” on such insect in order to create my birth mark. Just that easy, a memory was implanted into my mind. Induced false memories derived from suggestions beginning with my family transpired; overall, still an amusing story.


Reference List:

Loftus, E.F., Miller, D.G., & Burns, H.J. (1978). Semantic integration of verbal information into a visual memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4, 19-31.

Wade, K.A., Garry, M., Read, J.D. & Lindsay D.S. (2002). A picture is worth a thousand lies: Using false photographs to create false childhood memories. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9, 597-603.

Wayne Weiten (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations: Themes and Variations. Cengage Learning. p. 338.

1 thought on “Misinformation Effect

  1. Jessica Marie Maher

    The was a great story and related well to your topic. I didn’t give much thought to the misinformation effect until this class and your post. I guess I always just figured that my memories were authentic rather than potentially influenced by outside sources. I started to think about the court cases and how much decisions often rely on eye witnesses testimony and it can often be unreliable. Over the years there have been many rulings overturned because the person was convicted due to eye witness testimony holding a lot of weight and later DNA or some other factor showed that it was not possible that it was that person. Honestly I tried to think of people that I have encountered through out the last few days and if I was able to actually recall what they looked like. People that I had seen or even spoken to for 5-10 minutes whether it be someone at a store or someone that I had never encountered before that I was being introduced to, I really couldn’t recall a visual of the person enough to for example, pick them out of a line up or be able to describe them for a sketch artist.
    Over the summer my dad got into an accident while he was at work and since he is a truck driver, it was easy to blame him. The court ended up ruling that he was not at fault and there was no punishment brought upon him but there were multiple things that factored into this favorable decision. One of the most important things was that the eye witness testimony was conflicting and also would keep changing. One the cars had two people in it and they had two completely different takes on the scenario. Once the first person heard the second person’s story, they started to adapt their story to match rather than sticking to their original account. I have also experienced this first hand with my own experiences. My father is the youngest of 12 so I have a ton of cousins and family parties can get rowdy. When discussing different experiences with my cousins or recalling events that we were all present for, we have different memories of the story and I have found myself altering my memory of whatever had happened to include some of what they were saying.
    I think it is important to be aware of misinformation effect especially when it has to do with anything legally. Your memory can seriously cause negative implications in other’s lives so it is important to realize that it can be easily manipulated. You did a great job of adding an example of studies that were completed on the topic and the picture visual made your post fun to read. Thanks for the information!

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