Forced confabulation more strongly influences event memory if suggestions are other-generated than self-generated


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Kathy Pezdek, Department of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA 91711, USA (e-mail:


Purpose. Virtually all eyewitnesses to a crime, who eventually testify in court, are interviewed by police officers at least once. How do these interviews affect what the eyewitnesses are subsequently likely to report? The purpose of this study is to compare the relative impact of self- versus other-generated misinformation on confabulated memory about an event. Self-generated misinformation can occur by encouraging eyewitnesses to guess or speculate about possible answers to questions about which they report having no memory. Other-generated misinformation can occur by having an investigator suggest an answer to an eyewitness.

Methods. After viewing a 5 minutes crime video, participants answered written questions. One week later these same questions were answered again. We specifically focused on individuals' answers to unanswerable questions that probed information not actually presented in the video. If a participant answered an unanswerable question, we know that their answer was confabulated because the information was not presented in the video.

Results. If an answer to an unanswerable question was forced confabulated at time 1, that answer was more likely to be repeated at time 2 if it had been other-generated (suggested in the question) rather than self-generated (fabricated by the participant).

Conclusions. Pressuring eyewitnesses to answer questions about an event, when they indicate that they do not know the answer, can result in false confabulations. Answers suggested by the investigator are more likely to be repeated later than are answers that are simply self-generated or speculated by the eyewitness. These results are consistent with the reality monitoring framework and ‘recollect-to-reject’ metacognitive reasoning strategies.