Skip to main content
Log in

Inventing stories: Forcing witnesses to fabricate entire fictitious events leads to freely reported false memories

  • Brief Reports
  • Published:
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Studies of the forced fabrication effect have shown that participant witnesses are prone to developing false memories for specific items or details that they have been forced to fabricate earlier (e.g., what type of hat someone wore). Building on these earlier findings, the present study assessed whether participants would develop false memories if forced to fabricate entire fictitious events that were more complex and extended in time and involved people, locations, and actions that they had never seen. Participants vehemently resisted fabricating these events, and false memory development over the short term (1-week recognition test) was limited. However, after 8 weeks, participants freely reported their forced fabrications nearly 50% of the time and did so even when they had correctly and publicly rejected them earlier on the 1-week recognition test. This is the first evidence that participant witnesses will freely incorporate into their eyewitness accounts entire fictitious events that they have earlier been forced to fabricate.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.


  • Ackil, J. K., & Zaragoza, M. S. (1998). Memorial consequences of forced confabulation: Age differences in susceptibility to false memories. Developmental Psychology, 34, 1358–1372.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Eagly, A. H., & Chaiken, S. (1993). The psychology of attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerrie, M. P., Belcher, L. E., & Garry, M. (2006). “Mind the gap”: False memories for missing aspects of an event. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 689–696.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grant, T. (Producer), & Sullivan, K. (Director) (1989). Looking for miracles [Motion picture]. United States: Sullivan Entertainment.

  • Hanba, J. M., & Zaragoza, M. S. (2007). Interviewer feedback in repeated interviews involving forced confabulation. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 21, 433–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, M. K., & Raye, C. L. (1981). Reality monitoring. Psychological Review, 88, 67–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loftus, E. F., & Pickrell, J. E. (1995). The formation of false memories. Psychiatric Annals, 25, 720–725.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roediger, H. L., III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181–210.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Trabasso, T., Secco, T., & van den Broek, P. W. (1984). Causal cohesion and story coherence. In H. Mandl, N. L. Stein, & T. Trabasso (Eds.), Learning and comprehension of text (pp. 83–111). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zacks, J. M., & Tversky, B. (2001). Event structure in perception and conception. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 3–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Zaragoza, M. S., Payment, K. E., Ackil, J. K., Drivdahl, S. B., & Beck, M. (2001). Interviewing witnesses: Forced confabulation and confirmatory feedback increase false memories. Psychological Science, 12, 473–477.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Quin M. Chrobak or Maria S. Zaragoza.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Chrobak, Q.M., Zaragoza, M.S. Inventing stories: Forcing witnesses to fabricate entire fictitious events leads to freely reported false memories. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 15, 1190–1195 (2008).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: