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The Misinformation Effect cognitive bias

Written by John Kuder

Table Of Contents

The misinformation effect happens when a person’s memory of an event is less accurate because they have received misinformation about that event afterward.

The new information is stored and distorts the memory of the original event.

This happens in family settings all the time. Two people are telling the story of an event from many years prior and they remember it very differently. They may even argue about the differences and wonder if the other was even at the same event.

Each one feels that their memory is highly accurate.

Supporting Research

Elizabeth Loftus did the original research on this cognitive bias in the 1970’s and is considered one of the most influential authorities on this and false memory. Since this work is very relevant to eyewitness testimony, it has been used to change how courts use this testimony. Loftus has also been an expert witness in some very high-profile court cases.

People have different levels of susceptibility to this effect, based on traits and qualities such as their age, working memory capacity, personality traits and imagery abilities. If misinformation is presented in a language that is a second language, it increases the effect.

The way a question is worded can increase this effect.

“About how fast were the cars going when they collided? “

“About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”

How does it affect small business? People managers need to know that two different accounts of an event don’t necessarily mean that one person is lying. Asking neutral questions, even when they have an opinion, is helpful.

How does EQ relate to this effect?

Self-awareness and self-management are key, because our emotions affect our attention and increase the significance of parts of an event, making it more memorable. Other parts may fade or be ignored.

How do we avoid it?

We can’t totally avoid it. Knowing that it is common helps. We can be more careful about accepting new information and examine it more critically with questions.

The accusation of “fake news” is an example of the related “Tainted Truth” effect. Even if the news is accurate and factual, the accusation causes people to doubt it.

Category – Too much information; We seek takeaways to remember and toss the rest.





YouTube link:

Transcription of YouTube video:

Hi there. So we’re talking about Misinformation Effect. This is a cognitive bias. So they all, they all affect you the same way. Ooh. Well, they’re all so familiar, right? Because we know we got ’em. I mean, they get us right, right then, and we live with it because, You know, we’ve, we’ve been given some interesting, yes, yes.

And well, okay, so this particular, I mean, misinformation is, as the name implies. It can be unintentional, it can be intentional. It’s, it’s, they’re different. Okay. But what hap… this is about what happens to our memory when we. Are presented with misinformation after an event. So we, we, we have an experience and okay, and we have a memory of that experience.

Now we, okay. We know, and we’ve talked about this a bit, that our memories aren’t perfect and we’re not, we’re not is, I dunno, yours, we’re not video. We recorders, you know, our brains are not perfect, perfect recorders like like that. So Based on what? Taking that into effect into account. Okay. We have, we have a memory and Okay.

Then later on we can, somebody can say something about, you know, how they remember something or they can contradict what we think we saw, what we bel, what we remember, and, and that can actually affect our memory, not, not just cause us to doubt, but it can actually alter the memory so that later on when we recall the event, We recall it differently.

We recall a blend. Oh, that’s interesting. Of what we, what we originally remembered. You know, for example, if we were to, if we were to be recorded, you know, record a video, this is how I remember the event, right? And then, and then later, say a day later, we’re presented with misinformation about that event by someone else.

And then a couple days after that recorded again, okay, this is what I remember. And then watch the two recordings. They could be different. We could actually remember differently. Well, it’s like a a and be equally con convicted. Well, it’s like eyewitnesses on a wreck or, or a, or exactly. A robbery or a, you know, a crime of some sort.

Exactly. Because everybody, and then, you know, did you really remember it like that? Ooh, you just hit a nerve right there, because that’s, that’s a big piece. We’re gonna come back to that. But the question, how, how questions are asked can affect it too. Right. So I’m gonna put on my readers. So I, I got, I got a bunch of notes here.

Well, yeah, I mean, the, uh, entertainment media does portray this in many ways and eyewitness testimony has been shown and we’re, we’re gonna talk about that. Okay. That’s, there’s a lady. I’ll come back to that. Yes. So this, this, basically, this new information is stored and it distorts the memory of the initial event.

That’s what, okay. Well, I can understand. Okay. This happens in family settings. We’ve, we’ve experienced this. Oh, absolutely. Very recently we’ve got, we’ve just spent a few days with old friends Uhhuh, and we, we were, you know, as you, do you tell stories and you know, we’ve known these people for many, many decades.

Yes. We’ll talk about something that happened 20 years ago and 40 and, and it’s like, were you even at same place? Because we tell the story, we remember it differently, we tell it differently, and it’s like, no, no, no, it didn’t happen like that at all. Is this happening that no, you’re wrong.

And, and, and we’re both confident that our memory is accurate, right? So, This is, this is an example of this, you know, taking effect in, in terms of how our memories will change over time. Oh, yeah. We were both there. We both saw the same thing. Now that’s, that’s take, you know, time that, so there’s other memory effects happening there, but, but it is still an example of this.

True. There is a researcher, a well-known woman named Elizabeth Loftus. Okay. Her, she did the original research on this in the 1970s. And, and she’s a psychological researcher and, and psychologist. She’s considered one of the most influential authorities on this and, and in, and also in false memories.

So, um, this work is very relevant to eyewitness testimony. You’ve mentioned that in fact her work and her research has been used to alter the way courts handle eyewitness testimony because, It’s, it’s not as accurate. Now, there’s controversy around this too because you know it’s possible to take it too far and to discount eyewitness testimony.

Right. You know, that, um, that is, it’s still valuable. It may not be to the letter accurate, but, but to, to use the research to then say that it’s completely worthless would be wrong. And, and, and that would be an abuse. Right? Right. Right. And, and it, there are, I’m gonna just refer you to, to, if you want to go further, read some of the articles.

And it, it gives some, a couple of examples. I’m sure he’ll give you links if you need it. Yes. I’m gonna put links to resources or sources, sorry, in the In the description does he, does that. Okay. And this lady has also been an eyewitness sorry, an expert witness about eyewitness testimony and about memory changes like this.

Oh. In some very high profile court cases, including ojs trial. Ooh. So she’s, remember got some, you know, she’s been criticized a bit too. She’s, there’s been some controversy around her, but she also won an award. For, you know, sticking, basically sticking to the science despite controversy, you know, that’s good for her.

Okay. And now people have different levels of susceptibility to this effect based on their own traits and qualities, things like their age. Okay. Well, our brains work differently when we’re 16 than they do when we’re 68 or 90. Right. So there I can understand that sadly, approaching 90. It’s sad. I am, I don’t know about you.

Working memory capacity which, which is affected by sleep and stress and, and so many other things. But you know, there’s research about how many things we can keep in, in our mind. Certain, right? I think it’s not seven is, is a limit is a pretty well researched. How many? Seven items? Oh, seven. Seven.

And, and so, you know, if there’s, if, if, if for example, this were to happen with. But trying to remember a group of people, you know, who was in the room, how many people were, you know, if it was a bigger, bigger than seven people, it might be much harder to remember who was there than if there were only two.

Okay. That’s an example. A personality traits. You know, some people tend to be. More, less self-confidence than others, or detail oriented. Okay. Or less detail oriented. See, I’m not detail oriented, so I, I don’t, and he is so, and, but think about, think about the extremes of self-confidence and lack of self-confidence.

So one person might be very, very Tend not to doubt themselves, to be very, very certain that what they remember, what they know is right all the time. And another person might be very susceptible to being questioned. So if they’re, did it really happen like that? Oh no. I, I maybe not. You know, so and so there are, there are, if that can enhance, definitely infect, enhance this effect.

Also language well, imagery abilities was another one. So some, if someone’s a very, Visually oriented person, which the, you know, the whole learning styles thing is bs, but, but we do, different people are more visual than others. Maybe an artist, you know, who’s really, really has a trained eye to notice details.

Right. Might remember visual details better than someone who’s not, you know, not, okay, I see. And then a second language. If a person is is working, if, if the misinformation is presented in a language that’s not their primary language. It actually enhances the effect of this in, in interfering with their memory.

I can understand that because you have to translate. So Yeah. So so’s there. Lots lost in translation. Yeah. And, and what’s actually happening in the brain is, you know, nobody really knows. I mean, they’ve, they’ve done, they’ve, they’ve got functional MRI studies. There’s a lot of work that’s been done, but it’s still, there’s still these theories.

Yeah. So, but, but we do observe the effects and we know it happened. Okay, so you mentioned the way a question is worded and, and that you know that, that, and asking a question and, and I gave an example of, you know, questioning someone’s, you know, the their’s certainty. Okay, well think about this. Someone witnesses an I a a car accident.

Okay. All right. The person that’s asking, so for an the, say a police officer is asking for an estimate of how fast the cars were traveling. So one way of asking the question about how fast were the cars going when they collided. Okay. I, or, well, it, they’re, they’re just asking for a guess. But think about, I’m, I’m gonna give you two versions of the question.

Alright? Okay. So that was the first version about how fast were the cars going when they collided. Okay. The second version is about how far fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other. Now this has been researched. So what would you think would happen in people’s minds when, if they heard those que the, the two different questions?

Well, collision is one thing. Yes. Being smashed. Mm-hmm. That’s faster. Exactly. And that’s exactly what happened when, when the words smashed were, was inserted in the question, their estimates of how fast the cars were going went up. Yeah. So you think about, now you think about that in terms now we’re, we’re.

We’re not talking so much about memory in, in terms of like a survey, but people can word a survey Oh, yeah. Question, just exactly. To influence the answer. Absolutely. To get the, the answer they want. Absolutely. So this is this is an example of some, there are other cognitive biases like the priming, you know, priming where you, we talked about that.

You know, if you give somebody the. Would you, you know, the, a price of a car, I think it was you know, if, if the, if the initial price was much higher and then, and you came down a price that was actually above the true value of the car was still considered acceptable because they started at a higher price.

So this, this, you know, yes. And you could work your way down. Putting it in, putting that suggestion in somebody’s mind, using the word smashed, you know, is, is suggesting that they were really flying. Yeah, exactly. That’s interesting. Okay, so how might this affect small business? How might that Okay, well, I, I would say a, a, a big one would be that people, managers, Need to know that when two people that they’re managing have different accounts of an event, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one person is telling the truth and one is lying.

Oh, that’s true. Okay. And how many times have you in your life, have you, you know, you got two different people, two different remembering, two different things, and, and they’re saying, well, this is how it happened. No, this is how it happened. And, and especially if the person that’s doing the questioning is seeking to assign blame, ah, and they have that authority and they’ve already kind of made up their mind.

Another big one, if they have an opinion, they’re gonna be asking that question like about, you know, smashed. So they’re gonna say, you know, they may say they may ask the question that that suggests what they think happened, right? You weren’t paying attention, were you? Remember that in school. Asking neutral questions would be another thing that a you know, that a people manager could do to, and, and, and also, so I, I just… no preconceived notions.

No, I, I just. Demonstrated this. Um, but the next thing is eq. We talk, we talk about emotional intelligence a lot. So how does EQ work into this? Well, self-awareness and self-management, those first two, right? We should, we need to know, we need to have awareness of our feelings, awareness of our, you know, a larger emotional vocabulary.

And then we need to, to know how to kind of moderate those emotions because when we. Have a strong emotional, uh, response to an event, right? An attachment to the outcome. It is going to change how we remember it. Absolutely. Some parts of it are gonna stick out more and be more memorable. I don’t wanna talk about things being injured, but someone who has a particular love of, of animals, of, of pets.

If they were, you know, seeing an event where, a dog bit someone. Mm-hmm. Okay. The person who’s a dog lover might give, , have a change, their memory of, of the event might shift differently than someone who was very afraid of dogs who saw the same event. Right. Okay. I actually had that last week at least.

 Other, parts can fade or, or just be ignored because of our, our own emotional well, and there again, we’re working with limited information. Always, always, always. So that’s another big key. And that remember that, that you do not have the big picture. You, and this actual, this cognitive bias comes from the category of not of actually too much information.

So we have to filter it. There’s too much information. Oh. So, you know, and, and the way we, I still think it’s the way we filter is, is you know, we, we, we want an easy takeaway and we wanna throw away the rep. Uh huh And so, yeah, it’s similar to not enough information because we’re, when we’re remembering it, certainly when we’re remembering it, we have already thrown away a bunch.

We’ve picked out the parts that were memorable and saved those and thrown the rest away. So that’s, that’s how you described it. Okay, dokey. So what can we do to avoid this cognitive bias? Awareness. We can’t, I mean, we can, awareness is, is the best thing. That’s the only thing they, you know, they understand that you’re going into the situation.

Yes, uninformed. Don’t know what, really don’t know anything. So, and, and our memory’s not perfect. Right. So we, and nobody’s memory is perfect. We the other thing, and, and because this has to do with information that comes after an event that changes our memory, knowing about this and, and when new information or a differing, you know, a different viewpoint is presented to us, or different information being more critical of that, questioning that harder, rather than just accepting it well, and we’re always, Want, want to be a hero in our own story and asking questions, and we also are trying to C.Y.A.

So, yes. And, and so we have to be aware that comes back to the EQ part of it, right? Right. So we’re human. We do the best we can, but we we certainly in, this time of, of the digital world and. And AI and all the things that are, you know, all the changes are coming, all crazy stuff.

We, we just have to know that we’re human and, and live with our humanness and make the best of it and, and give grace to other people who are also human, right. So thank you so much for spending some time fun with us on the Misinformation Effect and we’ll see you another video. Bye bye.

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