Detecting False Information Can Boost Memory


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Because of False information, people find it more difficult to recall the original details. But a new research suggests that there may be times when false information actually boosts memory. The study shows that misinformation can sometimes enhance memory rather than harm it. People who actually notice that the misinformation is inconsistent with the original event have the better memory.

Adam Putnam of Carleton College said, “These findings are important because they help explain why false information effects occur sometimes. But not at other times if people notice that the misinformation isn’t accurate then they won’t have a false memory.

Scientists involved 72 undergraduate participants in the study. They showed six slide shows to participants, each of which contained 50 photos portraying a particular event. Scientists then asked volunteers to complete an unrelated “distractor” task for five minutes. They then asked them to read narrative descriptions for each slide in the previous slide shows.

The participant then answered multiple choice questions about what they remembered from the original slide shows. For example, What kind of bills was in the car?

After making their selection, participants reported whether they had noticed any discrepancies between the original slide show and the narratives. Participants were most likely to choose the misinformation response when the detail in the narrative was inconsistent with the slide show.

But when participants reported remembering a change between the slide shows and the narrative, this deficit disappeared.

During the second experiment, participants reported same effects. When scientists analyzed, they found details were less memorable, relatively speaking and more vulnerable to the misinformation effect.

The link between misinformation and memory is more complex than ever thought.

Putnam, “Classic interference theory in memory suggests that change is almost always bad for memory. But our study is one really clear example of how change can help memory in the right circumstances.”

People may learn about false memory research and walk away thinking that false memories can easily be implanted about all sorts of events- that we’re constantly remembering things that never happened. Our research helps in showing that although false memories can occur with some regularity, it isn’t a sure thing by any means,” he added.


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