Correcting false memories: Errors must be noticed and replaced.


Journal Article

Memory can be unreliable. For example, after reading The new baby stayed awake all night, people often misremember that the new baby cried all night (Brewer, 1977); similarly, after hearing bed, rest, and tired, people often falsely remember that sleep was on the list (Roediger & McDermott, 1995). In general, such false memories are difficult to correct, persisting despite warnings and additional study opportunities. We argue that errors must first be detected to be corrected; consistent with this argument, two experiments showed that false memories were nearly eliminated when conditions facilitated comparisons between participants' errors and corrective feedback (e.g., immediate trial-by-trial feedback that allowed direct comparisons between their responses and the correct information). However, knowledge that they had made an error was insufficient; unless the feedback message also contained the correct answer, the rate of false memories remained relatively constant. On the one hand, there is nothing special about correcting false memories: simply labeling an error as "wrong" is also insufficient for correcting other memory errors, including misremembered facts or mistranslations. However, unlike these other types of errors--which often benefit from the spacing afforded by delayed feedback--false memories require a special consideration: Learners may fail to notice their errors unless the correction conditions specifically highlight them.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Mullet, HG; Marsh, EJ

Published Date

  • April 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 44 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 403 - 412

PubMed ID

  • 26576564

Pubmed Central ID

  • 26576564

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1532-5946

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0090-502X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3758/s13421-015-0571-x


  • eng