How Does Misinformation Influence Our Memories of Events? - Deepstash
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The misinformation effect

The misinformation effect

The misinformation effect is when information received after an event interferes with one's memory of the actual happenings. Research shows that subtle details later on can dramatically change how people remember.

This effect shows how easily memories are influenced. It then questions the reliability of the memories of eyewitnesses to determine criminal guilt.


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Misinformation effect example

Misinformation effect example

In a famous experiment, participants were shown video footage of a traffic accident. Then participants were asked several questions about what they had seen.

  • Some participants were asked, "How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?"
  • Others had a subtle word change introduced, "How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?"

When participants were asked a week later if they saw broken glass, the first group correctly answered no. The second group were more likely to believe they had seen broken glass.


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Misinformation effect theories

There are different theories why the misinformation effect happens, potentially leading to false memories.

  1. The original facts and information after the fact get blended together in a person's memory.
  2. Misleading information replaces the original memory.
  3. Since misleading information is more recent, it's easier to retrieve.
  4. The original details may not have been encoded into memory. Misleading information is then mixed into the mental narrative to fill the memory gaps.


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Factors influencing the misinformation effect

Factors influencing the misinformation effect

Factors that make it more likely that event happenings will be distorted and lead to false memories:

  • Discussing the event with other witnesses. Conflicting reports might reshape or distort a witness's original memory of the event.
  • Reading or watching news reports. People often forget the original source of information and believe they observed something personally when they really heard it in a news report.
  • Repeated exposure to misinformation.
  • The passage of time.


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How to reduce the misinformation effect

  • One strategy is to write down your memory of an important event immediately after it happens. Keep in mind that subtle errors can still slip in and further cement them in your memory.
  • Another is to be aware that your memory can be influenced and that everyone is susceptible to the misinformation effect.

If everyone is saying the same thing and it is different to what you remember, the misinformation effect may be at play.


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