If it is stored in my memory I will surely retrieve it: anatomy of a metacognitive belief
Retrieval failures—moments when a memory will not come to mind—are a universal human experience. Yet many laypeople believe human memory is a reliable storage system in which a stored memory should be accessible. I predicted that people would see retrieval failures as aberrations and predict that fewer retrieval failures would happen in the future. After responding to a set of trivia questions, participants were asked whether they would do better, about the same, or worse if they were given a different, but equally difficult, set of questions to answer. The majority of participants said they would do about the same, but more participants said they would do better next time than said they would do worse, although these participants did not actually do better. This finding was especially pronounced when participants were given feedback, suggesting that hindsight bias—the feeling, which emerges when an answer is presented, that one knew it all along—contributed to participants’ belief that they had underperformed on the first set of questions. The finding that metacognitive judgments were influenced by beliefs stands out in a literature full of studies in which beliefs fail to influence judgments.
KeywordsMemory Metacognition Overconfidence Hindsight bias Optimism
This research was supported by a Scholar Award from the James S. McDonnell foundation.
- Benjamin, A. S., & Bjork, R. A. (1996). Retrieval fluency as a metacognitive index. In L. M. Reder (Ed.), Implicit memory and metacognition (pp. 309–338). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Bjork, R. A. (1989). Retrieval inhibition as an adaptive mechanism in human memory. In H. L. Roediger & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Varieties of memory and consciousness: Essays in honour of Endel Tulving (pp. 309–330). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Bjork, R. A. (1999). Assessing our own competence: Heuristics and illusions. In D. Gopher & A. Koriat (Eds.), Attention and performance XVII: Cognitive regulation of performance: Interaction of theory and application (pp. 435–459). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Fischhoff, B. (1975). Hindsight is not equal to foresight: the effects of outcome knowledge on judgment under uncertainty. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1, 288–299.Google Scholar
- Jacoby, L. L., & Kelley, C. M. (1987). Unconscious influences of memory for a prior event. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13, 314–336.Google Scholar
- Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Intuitive prediction: biases and corrective procedures. TIMS Studies in Management Science, 12, 313–327.Google Scholar
- Koriat, A., Lichtenstein, S., & Fischhoff, B. (1980). Reasons for confidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 107–118.Google Scholar
- Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2009). A stability bias in human memory: Overestimating remembering and underestimating learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138, 449–468. doi: 10.1037/a0017350.
- Loftus, E. F. (1996). Eyewitness testimony. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar