, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 208-214

Imagination inflation: Imagining a childhood event inflates confidence that it occurred


Counterfactual imaginings are known to have far-reaching implications. In the present experiment, we ask if imagining events from one’s past can affect memory for childhood events. We draw on the social psychology literature showing that imagining a future event increases the subjective likelihood that the event will occur. The concepts of cognitive availability and the source-monitoring framework provide reasons to expect that imagination may inflate confidence that a childhood event occurred. However, people routinely produce myriad counterfactual imaginings (i.e., daydreams and fantasies) but usually do not confuse them with past experiences. To determine the effects of imagining a childhood event, we pretested subjects on how confident they were that a number of childhood events had happened, asked them to imagine some of those events, and then gathered new confidence measures. For each of the target items, imagination inflated confidence that the event had occurred in childhood. We discuss implications for situations in which imagination is used as an aid in searching for presumably lost memories.

During much of this research, M.G. was supported by a postdoctoral training grant from the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. Thanks to Roddy Roediger, Steve Lindsay, Jonathan Schooler, Gary Wells, Kathleen McDermott, Chris Schacherer, Sue DuBreuil, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.