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Some Biases of Memory

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago

"Memories are distorted in a self-enhancing direction in all sorts of ways. Men and women alike remember having had fewer sexual partners than they really did, they remember having far more sex with those partners than they actually had, and they remember using condoms more often than they actually did. People also remember voting in elections they didn't vote in, they remember voting for the winning candidate rather than the politician they did vote for, they remember giving more to charity than they really did, they remember that their children walked and talked at an earlier age than they really did. [...] College students' memories of their high-school grades are also distorted in a a positive direction."

 

-Quote from Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (2007) Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), page 79.

 

M. Garry, S. J. Sharman, J. Feldman, G. A. Marlatt, E. F. Loftus "Examining Memory for Heterosexual College Students' Sexual Experiences Using an Electronic Mail Diary" (Full Text PDF) Health Psychology 2002, Vol. 21, No. 6, 629–634

To examine memory for sexual experiences, the authors asked 37 sexually active, nonmonogamous, heterosexual college students to complete an e-mail diary every day for 1 month. The diary contained questions about their sexual behaviors. Six to 12 months later, they returned for a surprise memory test, which contained questions about their sexual experiences from the diary phase. They were asked about their sexual partners, the types of sexual experiences they had, and condom use. Participants underreported the number of partners they had, but they overreported both sexual experiences and condom use. The results have implications for both sexual health educators and for people who engage in high-risk sexual behaviors

 

"We wondered if participants realized how inaccurate they were. For each event, we compared participants' accuracy ratings with their actual accuracy and found that they were uncorrelated, suggesting that people had little awareness of how inaccurate they were."

"People also remember voting in elections they didn't vote in, they remember voting for the winning candidate rather than the politician they did vote for..."

Abelson, R. P., Loftus, E. F., & Greenwald, A. G. (1992) "Attempts to improve the accuracy of self-reports of voting" in  J. M. Tanur (ed.) 1992 Questions About Questions: Inquiries into the Cognitive Bases of Surveys.  New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

 

Haven't found an abstract for this yet, but it describes attempts to create surveys that corrected for these biases of memory, none of which worked.

Robert F. Belli, Michael W. Traugott, Margaret Young, Katherine A. McGonagle (1999) "Reducing Vote Overreporting in Surveys: Social Desirability, Memory Failure, and Source Monitoring" The Public Opinion Quarterly Volume 63: p90-108

"they remember giving more to charity than they really did"

C. D. B. Burt, J. S. Popple (1998) "Memorial distortions in donation data" The Journal of Social Psychology, 153, 724-733.

In this study, participants' memory for charitable acts, including the amounts they donated to charity and the frequency of such donations, and also the processes associated with the recall of charitable acts was explored. Participants were Australian students who earned money for responding correctly to a decision-making task and then were given the opportunity to make a donation to a charity. Five weeks later they attempted to recall how much they had donated. Recall of the amount donated produced significant overestimations. A 2nd study examined estimates of donating frequency, and results suggested that the frequency of donating was overestimated. The discussion focuses on the validity of survey data on donation size and frequency and the processes associated with the recall of charitable acts.

"College students' memories of their high-school grades are also distorted in a a positive direction."

Harry P. Bahrick, Lynda K. Hall, Stephanie A. Berger (1996) "Accuracy and Distortion in Memory for High School Grades" Psychological Science, Volume 7; Number 5, pages 265-271

The relation between accuracy and distortion of autobiographical memory content was examined by verifying 3,220 high school grades recalled by 99 college students. Accuracy of recall declined monotonically with letter grade, from 89% for grades of A to 29% for grades of D. The positive correlation between achievement and accuracy of recall is attributed to more frequent rehearsals of affectively positive content and to greater accuracy of reconstructive inferences based on homogeneous, generic memories. Most errors inflated the verified grade, and the degree of asymmetry of the error distribution is used as an index of the degree of distortion. Distortions are attributed to reconstructions in a positive, emotionally gratifying direction. Contrary to expectation, the percentage of accurate recall and the degree of asymmetry of the error distribution were uncorrelated. This finding indicates that the process of distortion does not cause forgetting of the veridical content. Rather, distortion reflects bias in reconstructive inferences that occur after the veridical content has been forgotten for other reasons

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