Explorations in the social contagion of memory
Four experiments examined social influence on the development of false memories. We employed the social contagion paradigm: A subject and a confederate see scenes and then later take turns recalling items from the scenes, with the confederate erroneously reporting some items that were not present in the scenes; on a final test, the subject reports these suggested items when instructed to recall only items from the scenes. The first two experiments showed that the social contagion effect persisted when subjects were explicitly warned about the possibility that confederates’ responses might induce false memories and when they were tested via source-monitoring tests that explicitly gave the choice of attributing suggested items to the other person. Levels of false recall and recognition increased with the number of times the misleading information was suggested (Experiment 3), and subjects were more likely to incorporate the erroneous responses of an actual confederate on a recognition/source test as compared with those of a simulated confederate (Experiment 4). Collectively, the data support the claim that false memories may be transmitted between people and reveal critical factors that modulate the social contagion of memories.