Photograph-induced memory errors: When photographs make people claim they have done things they have not

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Abstract

Photographs can serve as valuable memory aids but can also contribute to memory inaccuracies. The present studies examine whether photographs can make people claim they performed an action that they did not in fact perform. Participants performed and imagined performing various actions (e.g. break the pencil, open the envelope) and later viewed photographs of actions in their completed states or read the names of the actions without an accompanying photograph. Results showed that participants were more likely to falsely claim to have performed actions that they did not actually perform after having seen a photograph of the completed action. When items were not imagined at all, such photograph-induced memory errors increased with the number of presentations of the photographs. Actions falsely claimed as performed were rated with high confidence. These findings suggest that photographs can mislead people as to what they did or did not do. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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