, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 365-371

Social contagion of memory

Abstract

We report a new paradigm for studying false memories implanted by social influence, a process we call the social contagion of memory. A subject and confederate together saw six common household scenes (e.g., a kitchen) containing many objects, for either 15 or 60 sec. During a collaborative recall test, the 2 subjects each recalled six items from the scenes, but the confederate occasionally made mistakes by reporting items not from the scene. Some intrusions were highly consistent with the scene schema (e.g., a toaster) while others were less so (e.g., oven mitts). After a brief delay, the individual subject tried to recall as many items as possible from the six scenes. Recall of the erroneous items suggested by the confederate was greater than in a control condition (with no suggestion). Further, this social contagion effect was greater when the scenes were presented for less time (15 sec) and when the intruded item was more schema consistent (e.g., the toaster). As with other forms of social influence, false memories are contagious; one person’s memory can be infected by another person’s errors.

This research was supported by the U.S. Office of Technical Services in a contract with H.L.R. The data reported were presented at the meeting of the Psychonomic Society in November 1999. We appreciate comments of David Balota, Larry Jacoby, Alan Lambert, Kathleen Mc-Dermott, and Mary Sue Weldon on this research.