Memory & Cognition

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 81–89 | Cite as

Does feigning amnesia impair subsequent recall?

  • Xue Sun
  • Paawan V. Punjabi
  • Lucy T. Greenberg
  • John G. Seamon


Defendants who are accused of serious crimes sometimes feign amnesia to evade criminal responsibility. Previous research has suggested that feigning amnesia might impair subsequent recall. In two experiments, participants read and heard a story about a central character, described as “you,” who was responsible for the death of either a puppy (Experiment 1) or a friend (Experiment 2). On free and cued recall tests immediately after the story, participants who had feigned amnesia recalled less than did participants who had recalled accurately. One week later, when all participants recalled accurately, participants who had previously feigned amnesia still performed worse than did participants who had recalled accurately both times. However, the participants who had formerly feigned amnesia did not perform worse than did a control group who had received only the delayed recall tests. Our results suggest that a “feigned amnesia effect” may reflect nothing more than differential practice at recall. Feigning amnesia for a crime need not impair memory for that crime when a person later seeks to remember accurately.


Free Recall Memory Test Recall Test Correct Recall Intrusion Error 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bernard, L. C., McGrath, M. J., & Houston, W. (1994). Discriminating between simulated malingering and closed head injury on the Wechsler Memory Scale-Revised. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 8, 539–551.Google Scholar
  2. Bulevich, J. B., Roediger, H. L., III, Balota, D. A., & Butler, A. C. (2006). Failures to find suppression of episodic memories in the think/ no-think paradigm. Memory & Cognition, 34, 1569–1577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bylin, S., & Christianson, S.-A. (2002). Characteristics of malingered amnesia: Consequences of withholding vs. distorting information on later memory of a crime event. Legal & Criminological Psychology, 7, 45–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cercy, S. P., Schretlen, D. J., & Brandt, J. (1997). Simulated amnesia and the pseudo-memory phenomena. In R. Rogers(Ed.), Clinical assessment of malingering and deception (2nd ed., pp. 85–107). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  5. Christianson, S.-A., & Bylin, S. (1999). Does simulating amnesia mediate genuine forgetting for a crime event? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 13, 495–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Greiffenstein, M. F., Baker, W. J., & Gola, T. (1994). Validation of malingered amnesia measures with a large clinical sample. Psychological Assessment, 6, 218–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Jelicic, M., Merckelbach, H., & Van Bergen, S. (2004). Symptom validity testing of feigned amnesia for a mock crime. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 19, 525–531.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kopelman, M. D. (1995). The assessment of psychogenic amnesia. In A. D. Baddeley, B. A. Wilson, & F. N. Watts (Eds.), Handbook of memory disorders (pp. 427–448). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Mulligan, N. W. (2005). Total retrieval time and hypermnesia: Investigating the benefits of multiple recall tests. Psychological Research, 69, 272–284.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Polage, D. C. (2004). Fabrication deflation? The mixed effects of lying on memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 455–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Pyszora, N. M., Barker, A. F., & Kopelman, M. D. (2003). Amnesia for criminal offences: A study of life sentence prisoners. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 14, 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Rubinsky, E. W., & Brandt, J. (1986). Amnesia and criminal law: A clinical overview. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 4, 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Schacter, D. L. (1986). Amnesia and crime: How much do we really know? American Psychologist, 41, 286–295.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Van Oorsouw, K., & Merckelbach, H. (2004). Feigning amnesia undermines memory for a mock crime. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 505–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Van Oorsouw, K., & Merckelbach, H. (2006). Simulating amnesia and memories of a mock crime. Psychology, Crime, & Law, 12, 261–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review, 101, 34–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Wiggins, E. C., & Brandt, J. (1988). The detection of simulated amnesia. Law & Human Behavior, 12, 57–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xue Sun
    • 1
  • Paawan V. Punjabi
    • 1
  • Lucy T. Greenberg
    • 1
  • John G. Seamon
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentWesleyan UniversityMiddletown

Personalised recommendations