Bilingual witnesses are more susceptible to the misinformation effect in their less proficient language

  • Dustin P. Calvillo
  • Nicole V. Mills


The misinformation effect occurs when a witness views an event, is exposed to misleading post-event information, and remembers some misleading details as having occurred in the original event. The present study examined the effect of receiving post-event information and being tested in different languages on bilingual participants’ susceptibility to the misinformation effect. English-Spanish bilingual participants (N = 234; 78% claimed English was their dominant language) watched a video, read a post-event narrative in English or in Spanish, and then were tested on details of the video in English or in Spanish. Regardless of the language in which participants read the post-event narrative, participants who were tested in English correctly recognized more true details and falsely recognized fewer misinformation details than those tested in Spanish. These results suggest that bilingual participants are more susceptible to the misinformation effect in their less proficient language, a finding that has important implications for interviewing bilingual witnesses. Even when witnesses claim to be fluent in two languages, testing their memory in their less fluent language may result in fewer true memories and more false memories.


misinformation effect bilingualism false memory 



The authors thank Sarah Taylor, Andrea Flores, Julia Najd, and Katherine Gossett for assistance with data collection.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Dustin P. Calvillo declares that he has no conflict of interest. Nicole V. Mills declares that she has no conflict of interests.

Animal Studies and Human Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. The dataset analyzed during the current study is available from the corresponding author on request.

Supplementary material

12144_2018_9787_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (83 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 82 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentCalifornia State University San MarcosSan MarcosUSA

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