Recognizing the Presidents: Was Alexander Hamilton President?
Psychological Science, Forthcoming
13 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 8, 2016
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
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