Not strange but not true: self-reported interest in a topic increases false memory

Memory. 2017 Sep;25(8):969-977. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2016.1237655. Epub 2016 Oct 6.


People are more likely to recall both true and false information that is consistent with their pre-existing stereotypes, schemata and desires. In addition, experts in a particular field are more likely to experience false memory in relation to their area of expertise. Here, we investigate whether level of interest, as distinct from level of knowledge, and in the absence of self-professed expertise, is associated with increased false memory. 489 participants were asked to rank 7 topics from most to least interesting. They were then asked if they remembered the events described in four news items related to the topic they selected as the most interesting and four items related to the topic selected as least interesting. In each case, three of the events depicted had really happened and one was fictional. A high level of interest in a topic increased true memories for the topic and doubled the frequency of false memories, even after controlling for level of knowledge. We interpret the results in the context of the source-monitoring framework and suggest that false memories arise as a result of interference from existing information stored in domain-related schemata.

Keywords: False memory; expertise; interest; source monitoring.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Self Report*
  • Young Adult