Misinformation Can Influence Memory for Recently Experienced, Highly Stressful Events

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 36, 2013, pp. 11-17

UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-132

8 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2013  

Charles A. Morgan III

Yale University - Department of Psychiatry

Steven Southwick

Yale University - Department of Psychiatry

George Steffian

Government of the United States of America - Navy

Gary Hazlett

Woodard-Cody Specialty Consulting, Inc.

Elizabeth F. Loftus

University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychology and Social Behavior; University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: August 15, 2013

Abstract

A large body of research has demonstrated that exposure to misinformation can lead to distortions in human memory for genuinely experienced objects or people. The current study examined whether misinformation could affect memory for a recently experienced, personally relevant, highly stressful event. In the present study we assessed the impact of misinformation on memory in over 800 military personnel confined in the stressful, mock POW camp phase of Survival School training. Misinformation introduced after the negatively affected memory for the details of the event (such as the presence of glasses or weapons), and also affected the accuracy of identification of an aggressive interrogator. In some conditions more than half of the subjects exposed to a misleading photograph falsely identified a different individual as their interrogator after the interrogation was over. These findings demonstrate that memories for stressful events are highly vulnerable to modification by exposure to misinformation, even in individuals whose level of training and experience might be thought to render them relatively immune to such influences.

Keywords: False memory, Military, Cognition, Survival School, Eyewitness recall, Interrogation

Suggested Citation

Morgan, Charles A. and Southwick, Steven and Steffian, George and Hazlett, Gary and Loftus, Elizabeth F., Misinformation Can Influence Memory for Recently Experienced, Highly Stressful Events (August 15, 2013). International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 36, 2013, pp. 11-17; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-132. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2310671

Charles A. Morgan III (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Steven Southwick

Yale University - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

George Steffian

Government of the United States of America - Navy

Washington, DC
United States

Gary Hazlett

Woodard-Cody Specialty Consulting, Inc.

107 Covington Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-6847
United States

Elizabeth F. Loftus

University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychology and Social Behavior ( email )

4201 Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697-7085
United States

University of California, Irvine School of Law

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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