Recognizing the Presidents: Was Alexander Hamilton President?

Psychological Science, Forthcoming

13 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2016

See all articles by Henry L. Roediger

Henry L. Roediger

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychology

K. DeSoto

Association for Psychological Science

Date Written: February 8, 2016

Abstract

Studies over the past 40 years show that Americans can recall about half the U.S. presidents. Do people know the presidents but are simply unable to access them for recall? We asked this question using the powerful cues of a recognition test. We tested 326 MTurk subjects on their ability to recognize U.S. presidents when presented with their full names among various types of lures. The hit rate for presidential recognition was .88, well above recall but far from perfect. Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur were recognized less than 60% of the time. Interestingly, 4 nonpresidents were falsely recognized at relatively high rates, and Alexander Hamilton was more frequently identified as president than several actual presidents. Even on a recognition test, knowledge of American presidents is imperfect and prone to error. The false alarm data support the theory that false fame can arise from contextual familiarity.

Keywords: recognition, presidents, false fame, familiarity, collective memory

Suggested Citation

Roediger, Henry L. and DeSoto, Kurt, Recognizing the Presidents: Was Alexander Hamilton President? (February 8, 2016). Psychological Science, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2715690

Henry L. Roediger (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychology ( email )

St. Louis, MI 63130
United States

Kurt DeSoto

Association for Psychological Science ( email )

1800 Massachusetts Ave NW Suite 402
Washington, DC 20036
United States
2022939300 x118 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.psychologicalscience.org

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