Imagination inflation: Imagining a childhood event inflates confidence that it occurred

Abstract

Counterfactual imaginings are known to have far-reaching implications. In the present experiment, we ask if imagining events from one’s past can affect memory for childhood events. We draw on the social psychology literature showing that imagining a future event increases the subjective likelihood that the event will occur. The concepts of cognitive availability and the source-monitoring framework provide reasons to expect that imagination may inflate confidence that a childhood event occurred. However, people routinely produce myriad counterfactual imaginings (i.e., daydreams and fantasies) but usually do not confuse them with past experiences. To determine the effects of imagining a childhood event, we pretested subjects on how confident they were that a number of childhood events had happened, asked them to imagine some of those events, and then gathered new confidence measures. For each of the target items, imagination inflated confidence that the event had occurred in childhood. We discuss implications for situations in which imagination is used as an aid in searching for presumably lost memories.

References

  1. Abelson, R. P., Loftus, E. F., &Greenwald, A. G. (1992). Attempts to improve the accuracy of self-reports of voting. In J. M. Tanur (Ed.),Questions about survey questions: Meaning, memory, expression, and social interactions in surveys (pp. 138–153). New York: Russell Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Arkes, H. R., Boehm, L. E., &Xu, G. (1991). Determinants of judged validity.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,27, 576–605.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Arkes, H. R., Hackett, C., &Boehm, L. (1989). The generality of the relation between familiarity and judged validity.Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,2, 81–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bartlett, J. (1992).Familiar quotations: A collection of passages, phrases, and proverbs traced to their sources in ancient and modern literature (16th ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Belli, R. F. (1989). Influences of misleading postevent information: Misinformation interference and acceptance.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,118, 72–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Carroll, J. S. (1978). The effect of imagining an event on expecations for the event: An interpretation in terms of the availability heuristic.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,36, 1501–1511.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Gibson, J. J. (1977/1986).The ecological approach to perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Gregory, W. L., Cialdini, R. B., &Carpenter, K. M. (1982). Selfrelevant scenarios as mediators of likelihood estimates and compliance: Does imagining make it so?Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,43, 88–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Hyman, I. E., Husband, T. H., &Billings, F. J. (1995). False memories of childhood experiences.Applied Cognitive Psychology,9, 181–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Jacoby, L. L., Woloshyn, V., &Kelley, C. (1989). Becoming famous without being recognized: Unconscious influences of memory produced by dividing attention.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,118, 115–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Johnson, M. K. (1988). Reality monitoring: An experimental phenomenological approach.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,117, 390–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Johnson, M. K., Foley, M., Suengas, A. G., &Raye, C. L. (1988). Phenomenal characteristics of memories for perceived and imagined autobiographical events.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,117, 371–376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Johnson, M. K., Hashtroudi, S., &Lindsay, D. S. (1993). Source monitoring.Psychological Bulletin,114, 3–28.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Johnson, M. K., &Sherman, S. J. (1990). Constructing and reconstructing the past and the future in the present. In E. T. Higgins & R. M. Sorrentino (Eds.),Handbook of motivation and social cognition: Foundations of social behavior (pp. 482–526). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Kahneman, D., &Tversky, A. (1982). The simulation heuristic. In D. Kahneman, P. Slovik, & A. Tversky (Eds.),Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases (pp. 201–208). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Koehler, D. J. (1991). Explanation, imagination, and confidence in judgement.Psychological Bulletin,110, 499–519.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Loftus, E. F. (1993). The reality of repressed memories.American Psychologist,48, 518–537.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Maltz, W. (1991).The sexual abuse healing journey. New York: Harper/Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Neisser, U. (1986). Nested structure in autobiographical memory. In D. C. Rubin (Ed.),Autobiographical memory (pp. 71–81). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Ofshe, R. J. (1992). Inadvertent hypnosis during interrogation: False confession due to dissociative state: Mis-identified multiple personality and the satanic cult hypothesis.International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis,40, 125–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Payne, D. G., &Roediger, H. L., III (1987). Hypermnesia occurs in recall but not in recognition.American Journal of Psychology,100, 145–165.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Pratkanis, A. R., Greenwald, A. G., Leippe, M. R., &Baumgardner, M. H. (1988). In search of reliable persuasion effects: III. The sleeper effect is dead: Long live the sleeper effect.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,54, 203–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Roediger, H. L., III, &Payne, D. G. (1985). Recall criterion does not affect recall level or hypermnesia: A puzzle for generate/recognize theories.Memory & Cognition,13, 1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Sarbin, T. R. (1995). On the belief that one body may be host to two or more personalities.International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis,43, 163–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Sherman, S. J., Cialdini, R. B., Schwartzman, D. F., &Reynolds, K. D. (1985). Imagining can heighten or lower the perceived likelihood of contracting a disease: The mediating effect of ease of imagery.Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin,11, 118–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Tversky, A., &Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability.Cognitive Psychology,5, 207–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Wells, G. L., &Gavanski, I. (1989). Mental simulation of causality.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,56, 161–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Maryanne Garry or Charles G. Manning or Elizabeth F. Loftus.

Additional information

During much of this research, M.G. was supported by a postdoctoral training grant from the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. Thanks to Roddy Roediger, Steve Lindsay, Jonathan Schooler, Gary Wells, Kathleen McDermott, Chris Schacherer, Sue DuBreuil, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Garry, M., Manning, C.G., Loftus, E.F. et al. Imagination inflation: Imagining a childhood event inflates confidence that it occurred. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 3, 208–214 (1996). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03212420

Download citation

Keywords

  • False Memory
  • Past Event
  • Autobiographical Memory
  • Critical Item
  • Childhood Event