An inquiry into false memory
In 1974, Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer tried to investigate the effects of language on the development of false memory. The experiment involved two separate studies.
In the first test, 45 participants were randomly assigned to watch videos of a car accident. The videos had shown collisions at 32 km/h, 48 km/h and 64 km/h. Afterwards, participants filled out a survey, which asked the question: “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”
The question always asked the same thing, except the verb used to describe the collision varied. Rather than “smashed”, other verbs included “bumped”, “collided”, “hit”, or “contacted”.
Participants estimated collisions of all speeds to average between 56 km/h to just below 64 km/h. If actual speed was the main factor in estimate, it could be assumed that participants would have lower estimates for lower speed collisions. Instead, the word being used to describe the collision seemed to better predict the estimate in speed rather than the speed itself.
The second experiment also showed participants videos of a car accident, but the phrasing of the follow-up questionnaire was critical in participant responses.
Some150 participants were randomly assigned to three conditions. Those in the first condition were asked the same question as the first study using the verb “smashed”.
The second group was asked the same question as the first study, replacing “smashed” with “hit”.
The final group was not asked about the speed of the crashed cars. The researchers then asked the participants if they had seen any broken glass, knowing that there was no broken glass in the video. The responses to this question had shown that the difference between whether broken glass was recalled or not heavily depended on the verb used.
A larger sum of participants in the “smashed” group declared that there was broken glass.
Result: The words used to phrase a question can heavily influence the response given. Second, the study indicates that the phrasing of a question can give expectations to previously ignored details, and therefore, a misconstruction of our memory recall. This indication supports false memory as an existing phenomenon.
This is why we can't have nice things
A reader writes: “Stolen planter box outside Ōwairaka District School. They obviously didn’t want the newly planted shrubs.”
Conrad Surynt writes: “Regarding the item about sailors and bell-bottoms, their purpose was to enable sailors to roll up their trousers when they were jumping out of boats afterrowing to shore (like Captain Cook’s shore parties). Some shore parties had calf-length trousers, but bell-bottoms was the other solution to the problem of wet trousers.”
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