People consider reliability and cost when verifying their autobiographical memories

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2014 Feb:146:28-34. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2013.12.001. Epub 2013 Dec 25.


Because memories are not always accurate, people rely on a variety of strategies to verify whether the events that they remember really did occur. Several studies have examined which strategies people tend to use, but none to date has asked why people opt for certain strategies over others. Here we examined the extent to which people's beliefs about the reliability and the cost of different strategies would determine their strategy selection. Subjects described a childhood memory and then suggested strategies they might use to verify the accuracy of that memory. Next, they rated the reliability and cost of each strategy, and the likelihood that they might use it. Reliability and cost each predicted strategy selection, but a combination of the two ratings provided even greater predictive value. Cost was significantly more influential than reliability, which suggests that a tendency to seek and to value "cheap" information more than reliable information could underlie many real-world memory errors.

Keywords: 2340; 2343; Autobiographical memory; False memory; Information-cost trade-off; Verifying strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Reproducibility of Results