Fallacies in memory for conversations: Reflections on Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, and the Like



This study examines conditions that relate to fallacies in memory for conversations. This research tests a cognitive interpretation for why a conversation might be vividly memorable to one eyewitness but not to another. Specifically, a test of gist and verbatim memory for sexual versus non sexual material is presented. In addition, the relative memorability of sexual versus non sexual mateial is tested as a function of the consistency of the context in which it is presented. In two experiments participants heard a recorded conversation between a man and a woman that included four sexual and four non sexual target sentences. The conversation was framed as having been recorded in either a singles bar (the consistent context) or an office setting (the inconsistent context). Sexual items were recalled and recognized better than non sexual items, on both gist and verbatim memory tasks, and the difference in gist (but not verbatim) memory between sexual and non sexual items was greater in the inconsistent than in the consistent context. The discussion considers how this pattern of results might illuminate slippages in memory that may have occured during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearing (U. S. Supreme Court appointment review; October 1991) as well as memory slippages more generally.