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Influence of Misinformation for Prior Affective Reports on Subsequent Memory and Behavior


Previous research on choice blindness has shown that people often fail to notice changes in their reports about their own preferences, experiences, and internal states, but scarce few studies have investigated whether this failure to detect changes can lead to longer-term consequences. Another body of research on the misinformation effect has demonstrated that exposing people to misleading information about a witnessed event can alter their subsequent memories for that event, but little is known about whether misleading people about their own reactions to experienced events might alter their memories for those events. This question is important because people make decisions about future events in part based upon their memories for their experiences in similar situations in the past. The present experiments apply the principles of the misinformation effect to the methodology of choice blindness in order to answer this question. In Study 1, subjects underwent a painful cold pressor task and reported the level of pain they experienced. Later, some subjects were told they reported less pain than they actually did. Many subjects who received this misinformation failed to detect it. In addition, exposure to this misinformation caused subjects to exhibit a greater reduction in their memory for pain, especially when they failed to detect it. However, this misinformation did not cause subjects to become significantly more willing to complete a similar study in the future. In Study 2, subjects underwent a Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and reported the levels of anxiety and excitement they experienced. Later, some subjects were told they reported less anxiety and more excitement than they truly reported. Again, many subjects failed to detect this misinformation. Subjects misinformed in this way later exhibited a greater positive bias in their memory for their anxiety and excitement, especially when they failed to detect the misinformation. Non-detectors also exhibited a more positive change in their experiences on a second TSST. However, neither subjects exposed to misinformation, nor those who failed to detect it, exhibited a greater increase in performance on the second TSST. These findings have important implications for how people recall unpleasant events and how they experience similar subsequent events.

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