Changing history: doctored photographs affect memory for past public events


  • This paper is based in part on an Undergraduate Thesis submitted to the University of Padova under the supervision of the second author.


We investigated how doctored photographs of past public events affect memory for those events. Italian participants viewed either original images or misleading digitally doctored images depicting the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing and a 2003 protest in Rome against the war in Iraq, and they subsequently answered questions about those events. Viewing the doctored images affected the way participants remembered the events. Those who viewed the doctored photograph of the Beijing event estimated that a larger number of people participated in it. Those who viewed the doctored photograph of the Rome event rated the event as more violent and more negative, recalled more physical confrontation, damage to property, and injuries to demonstrators, and were less inclined to participate in future protests. Both younger and older adult participants were affected by the manipulation. Results indicate that doctored photographs of past public events can influence memory, attitudes and behavioural intentions. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.