, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 101-112
Date: 20 Jul 2011

The costs and benefits of memory conformity


We examined the influence of external recommendations on memory attributions. In two experiments, participants were led to believe that they were viewing the responses of two prior students to the same memoranda they were currently judging. However, they were not informed of the reliability of these fictive sources of cues or provided with performance feedback as testing proceeded. Experiment 1 demonstrated improvement in the presence of reliable source cues (75% valid), as compared to uncued recognition, whereas performance was unaltered in the presence of random cues provided by an unreliable source (50% valid). Critically, participants did not ignore the unreliable source, but instead appeared to restrict cue use from both sources to low-confidence trials on which internal evidence was highly unreliable. Experiment 2 demonstrated that participants continued to treat an unreliable source as potentially informative even when it was predominantly incorrect (25% valid), highlighting severe limitations in the ability to adequately discount unreliable or deceptive sources of memory cues. Thus, under anonymous source conditions, observers appear to use a low-confidence outsourcing strategy, wherein they restrict reliance on external cues to situations of low confidence.