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Imagination inflation: A statistical artifact of regression toward the mean

Abstract

In the imagination inflation procedure of Garry, Manning, Loftus, and Sherman (1996), subjects rated a list of events in terms of how likely each was to have occurred in their childhood. Two weeks later, some of the events were imagined; control events were not. The subjects then rated the likelihood of occurrence for each event a second time. Garry et al. (1996) reported that the act of imagining the target events led to increased ratings of likelihood. This finding has been interpreted as indicating that false events can be suggestively planted in memory by simply having people imagine them. The present study tests and confirms the hypothesis that the results that have been attributed to imagination inflation are simply a statistical artifact of regression toward the mean. The experiment of Garry et al. (1996) was reproduced (with some procedural changes), using younger and older adults. The results of Garry et al. (1996) were replicated; likelihood ratings for events initially rated low in likelihood did increase from Time 1 to Time 2. However, ratings for events initially rated high in likelihood decreased under the same conditions, and these results were consistent with the imagined target events, the target events not imagined, and the nontarget events.

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Correspondence to Kathy Pezdek.

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These findings were presented at the 1999 meeting of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition in Boulder, Colorado, and at the 2000 meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society in New Orleans.

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Pezdek, K., Eddy, R.M. Imagination inflation: A statistical artifact of regression toward the mean. Memory & Cognition 29, 707–718 (2001). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03200473

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03200473

Keywords

  • Imagination Condition
  • False Memory
  • Target Event
  • Nontarget Event
  • Likelihood Rating