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Office of Neuroscience Research > WUSTL Neuroscience News > Misinformation may improve event recall, study finds

Misinformation may improve event recall, study finds

From the WUSTL Newsroom...

Decades of psychological research cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony by showing that false details put forth during an interrogation can lead some people to develop vivid memories of events that never happened.

While this “false memory” phenomenon is alive and well, new research from Washington University in St. Louis and Carleton College suggests that a bit of misinformation also has potential to improve our memories of past events — at least under certain circumstances.

“Providing eyewitnesses with misleading information about a crime can alter their memories for key details of the crime scene, but our study suggests that this effect is not ubiquitous,” said study co-author Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger, an internationally recognized expert on human memory at Washington University.

“In situations where the original event was pretty well remembered, a later attempt to provide misinformation can actually boomerang and make details of the original scene even more memorable,” added Roediger, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study is co-authored by Roediger and two of his former Washington University graduate students in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences: Adam L. Putnam, a 2015 doctoral graduate, who is now a psychology professor at Carleton College, and Victor Sungkhasettee, who received a master’s degree in 2014.

“Our experiments show that misinformation can sometimes enhance memory rather than harm it,” Putnam, the study’s lead author, said in an Association for Psychological Science news release on the study.  “These findings are important because they help explain why misinformation effects occur sometimes but not at other times — if people notice that the misinformation isn’t accurate, then they won’t develop a false memory.”

For the complete article, click here.