What Is Misinformation Effect?

How Does the Misinformation Effect Apply to Marketing?

Henry Foster
Last updated: Aug 14, 2020
Originally published: Apr 11, 2019


The misinformation effect happens when a person's memory becomes less accurate due to information that happens after the event.

What Factors Influence The Misinformation Effect?


Individuals may not be actively rehearsing the details of a given event after encoding. The longer the delay between the presentation of the original event and post-event information, the more likely it is that individuals will incorporate misinformation into their final reports.[6]

Furthermore, more time to study the original event leads to lower susceptibility to the misinformation effect. Elizabeth Loftus coined the term discrepancy detection principle for her observation that a person´s recollections are more likely to change, if they do not immediately detect the discrepancies between misinformation and the original event.[9][14]

At times people recognize a discrepancy between their memory and what they are being told.[15] People might recollect, "I thought I saw a stop sign, but the new information mentions a yield sign, I guess I must be wrong, it was a yield sign."[15] Although the individual recognizes the information as conflicting with their own memories they still adopt it as true.[9]

If these discrepancies are not immediately detected they are more likely to be incorporated into memory.[9]

Source Reliability

The more reliable the source of the post-event information, the more likely it is that participants will adopt the information into their memory.[6]

For example, Dodd and Bradshaw (1980) used slides of a car accident for their original event. They then had misinformation delivered to half of the participants by an unreliable source: a lawyer representing the driver. The remaining participants were presented with misinformation, but given no indication of the source.

The misinformation was rejected by those who received information from the unreliable source and adopted by the other group of subjects.[6]

Discussion and Rehearsal

The question of whether discussion is detrimental to memories also exists when considering what factors influence the misinformation effect. One particular study examined the effects of discussion in groups on recognition.

The experimentors used three different conditions: discussion in groups with a confederate providing misinformation, discussion in groups with no confederate, and a no-discussion condition. They found that participants in the confederate condition adopted the misinformation provided by the confederate.

However, there was no difference between the no-confederate and no-discussion conditions, proving that discussion (without misinformation) is neither harmful nor beneficial to memory accuracy.[16]

In an additional study, Karns et al. (2009) found that collaborative pairs showed a smaller misinformation effect than individuals. It appeared as though collaborative recall allowed witnesses to dismiss misinformation generated by an inaccurate narrative.[17]

In a 2011 study, Paterson et al. studied "memory conformity", showing students two different videos of a burglary. It was found that if witnesses who had watched the two different videos talked with one another, they would then claim to remember details shown in the video of the other witness and not their own.

They continued to claim the veracity of this memory, despite warnings of misinformation.[18]

State of Mind

Various inhibited states of mind such as drunkenness and hypnosis can increase misinformation effects.[9] Assefi and Garry (2002) found that participants who believed they had consumed alcohol showed results of the misinformation effect on recall tasks.[19] The same was true of participants under the influence of hypnosis.[20]

Arousal After Learning

Arousal induced after learning reduces source confusion, allowing participants to better retrieve accurate details and reject misinformation.

In a study of how to reduce the misinformation effect, participants viewed four short film clips, each followed by a retention test, which for some participants included misinformation. Afterward, participants viewed another film clip that was either arousing or neutral.

One week later, the arousal group recognized significantly more details and endorsed significantly fewer misinformation items than the neutral group.[25]


Educating participants about the misinformation effect can enable them to resist its influence. However, if warnings are given after the presentation of misinformation, they do not aid participants in discriminating between original and post-event information.[9]

Psychotropic Placebos

Research published 2008 showed that placebos enhanced memory performance. participants were given a phoney "cognitive enhancing drug" called R273. When they participated in a misinformation effect experiment, people who took R273 were more resistant to the effects of misleading postevent information.[26]

As a result of taking R273, people used stricter source monitoring and attributed their behavior to the placebo and not to themselves.[26]


Most obviously, leading questions and narrative accounts can change episodic memories and thereby affect witness' responses to questions about the original event.

Additionally, witnesses are more likely to be swayed by misinformation when they are suffering from alcohol withdrawal[17][21] or sleep deprivation,[17][22] when interviewers are firm as opposed to friendly,[17][23] and when participants experience repeated questioning about the event.[17][24]

What Increases The Likelihood of the Misinformation Effect Happening?

It is important to note that not everyone is equally susceptible to the misinformation effect. Individual traits and qualities can either increase or decrease one's susceptibility to recalling misinformation.[5] Such traits and qualities include: age, working memory capacity, personality traits and imagery abilities.


Several studies have focused on the influence of the misinformation effect on various age groups.[9] Young children are more susceptible than older children and adults to the misinformation effect.[9] Additionally, elderly adults are more susceptible than younger adults.[9][10]

Working Memory Capacity

Individuals with greater working memory capacity are better able to establish a more coherent image of an original event. Participants performed a dual task: simultaneously remembering a word list and judging the accuracy of arithmetic statements. Participants who were more accurate on the dual task were less susceptible to the misinformation effect.

This, in turn, allowed them to reject the misinformation.[5][11]

Personality Traits

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is one type of test used to assess participant personalities. Individuals were presented with the same misinformation procedure as that used in the original Loftus et al. study in 1978 (see above).

The results were evaluated in regards to their personality type. Introvert-intuitive participants were more likely to accept both accurate and inaccurate postevent information than extrovert-sensate participants. Therefore, it was speculated that introverts are more likely to have lower confidence in their memory and are more likely to accept misinformation.[5][12]

Individual personality characteristics, including empathy, absorption and self-monitoring, have also been linked to greater susceptibility.[9]

Imagery Abilities

The misinformation effect has been examined in individuals with varying imagery abilities. Participants viewed a filmed event followed by descriptive statements of the events in a traditional three-stage misinformation paradigm.

Participants with higher imagery abilities were more susceptible to the misinformation effect than those with lower abilities. The psychologists argued that participants with higher imagery abilities were more likely to form vivid images of the misleading information at encoding or at retrieval, therefore increasing susceptibility.[5][13]

See Also: Confabulation, Encoding (memory), Eyewitness memory, Memory conformity, Storage (memory), Weapon focus


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This information is provided under the Wikipedia Creative Common License.

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Henry Foster

Henry Foster is a digital marketer from Boston, making money for B2B companies by generating leads via paid search and social.

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