Memory can be improved with exposure to false information, according to study. The researchers found that people who recognize false information about the original event have a better recall of the event, compared to those who did not pick up on the inconsistencies.
Lead researcher Adam Putnam explained, “Our experiments show that misinformation can sometimes enhance memory rather than harm it. 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 have a false memory.”
In the first experiment, the researchers looked at 72 undergraduate participants who viewed six slides containing 50 photos of a particular event. After the slideshow, the participants partook in a distractor task for five minutes and then read narrative descriptions for each slide. The narratives either told the truth about the event, neutral information, or false information.
After reading the narratives and completing another distractor test, the participants answered a multiple-choice questionnaire about what they remembered from the original slideshow. They had to choose between a correct answer, incorrect answer with misinformation, and a completely incorrect answer. After finishing the questionnaires, participants had to report whether they noticed any inconsistencies.
Participants were more likely to choose the correct answer after seeing misinformation, compared to seeing neutral information.
Misinformation seemed to impair memory for correct detail, but detecting and remembering misinformation in the narrative seemed to improve patient’s recognition later on.
The second experiment yielded similar results and also showed that how memorable a detail was seemed to determine whether participants would recognize it or not.
Putnam continued, “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.”