Archive for the ‘Cognitive Bias’ Category

Where Did That Memory Come From?

November 26th, 2019 No comments

Katie knows everything that happened at an event that she never attended. She knows how many people were there, she knows who was there, she even knows almost everything that was said there. She started to think that she herself was present at this party. When she told the story to other people all of a sudden she was an active character at the event that she never attended. Another instance, have you ever heard a friend of yours tell a story about something that happened to her.  Maybe, you had thought of an idea for a study then, realized that the study had already been done and that you read about the study before a while ago.

The examples above are an example of a misattribution of memory, otherwise known as source misattribution. Source misattribution could be seen as being able to remember a specific event or piece of information, but without being able to remember where that information came from. A psychologist, Daniel Schacter wrote a book called the Seven Sins of Memory. His book talked about how our memory can fail us in different ways. Schacter divided the seven sins of memory into sins of omission and sins of commission. A sin of omission would be similar to forgetting. Omission being that you leave parts of the information out, while commission means that you add some information in. So based on this, where do you think misattribution falls under? You got it! Misattribution falls under the sins of commission.

Since misattribution could appear in different forms, Schacter divides misattribution into different categories cryptomnesia, false memories, and source confusion. Cryptomnesia is a pretty cool concept. It is about how people would accidentally steal other people’s ideas without being aware of it.  False memories would be something similar to the Katie scenario that I mentioned above. Since we get information from different sources and we as humans are not too great at figuring out where we got it from. Therefore, we create false memories.

In the example, I mentioned above, Katie kept hearing different stories of the party that she never attended so often that she began to think that she was at that party, herself. While on the topic of false memories, I wanted to talk about flashbulb memories and the research done surrounding this topic. You might not have any clue on what flashbulb memories are but that’s okay because I didn’t either. Flashbulb memories are our memories for emotional usually traumatic events. For example, people who were present during the bombing of the twin towers. Having the memory of that would count as a flashbulb memory.  Hirst and Schacter (2015) did research examining flashbulb memory. Their research done with flashbulb memories showed that people’s memory for something as significant as the 9/11 bombing deteriorated very quickly within the first year. Even after a ten- year period, the study showed that the incorrect information present in that memory ended up never being corrected. The study also found that people’s confidence in

these false memories were very high throughout the ten- year period. Research on false memories using flashbulb memories shows how highly we trust our memories and how easily our memories deteriorate and how we use incorrect information to fill the gaps. Then we end up carrying the incorrect memory with us for the rest of our lives.

Enough about false memories lets move on to source confusion. Source confusion

Where did I learn that from?

is not being able to remember where the newfound information came from. This could be as simple as not remembering where you learned what misattribution was or it could be as complex as putting the wrong person in prison for a crime they did not commit.  Gomez, Hupbach, and Nadel (2009) conducted a study to show what source confusion was. In the study they had participants come into the lab on three different sessions. Participants were divided into two different groups, reminder, and no reminder. In the first session, they were shown 20 items by taking each item out from a blue basket. In the second session, the reminder group had the same experimenter show them 20 new items. However, this time all 20 items were sitting on the table. Meanwhile, the no reminder group had a new experimenter. In the third session, both groups were required to complete a source memory task, where they were asked if they remembered seeing the item and if so, what session did they see it from and how confident they were of their answer. The results showed that members of the reminder group were more likely to attribute items that were in set 2 to set 1. In terms of confidence levels, when they attributed set 2 items to set 1, their confidence levels were the same as the correct items that they attributed to set 2.  In this experiment, the only thing that was changed for the reminder group was the method of encoding the new information. The room and the experimenter remained constant, unlike the non-reminder group. This research shows how easily people can forget the source of their information. It is also important to note that order also has an effect on this.

Now it is time to talk about the real-life implications of misattribution of memory. If we can barely remember what session we saw an item and a traumatic life event that we experienced. Then, how are we going to remember who committed what crime? Lane and Zaragoza (1994) further studied the effect that suggestibility has on eyewitness testimony. They performed 5 different experiments. In summary, they found that suggestibility played a big role in eyewitness testimony. They found that people have about a 75% confidence level for remembering reading or seeing suggested information through misleading questions. They also found that these misleading questions also increase the source misattribution effect.

Our memories are flawed

With the failure in memory gets prosecutors off the hook really easily. You could be asked a  few misleading questions then, all of a sudden your story has changed and the wrong person is in prison. There was a story about a woman who was watching someone give an interview on television then somebody broke into her house. When filing a police report she ended up describing the man that she was watching in the interview. Luckily for him, his alibi was airtight. This example perfectly shows what source misattribution is and how harmful it is to others.


After reading all of this,  the main takeaway is that you can not be 100% percent sure of your memory. Even if you think you are, you most likely are not.


Hirst, W., Phelps, E. A., Meksin, R., Vaidya, C. J., Johnson, M. K., Mitchell, K. J., … Olsson, A. (2015). A ten-year follow-up of a study of memory for the attack of September 11, 2001: Flashbulb memories and memories for flashbulb events. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General144(3), 604–623. doi: 10.1037/xge0000055
Hupbach, A., Gomez, R., & Nadel, L. (2009). Episodic memory reconsolidation: Updating or source confusion? Memory17(5), 502–510. doi: 10.1080/09658210902882399
Murray, B. (2003, October). The seven sins of memory. Retrieved November 26, 2019, from
Zaragoza, M. S., & Lane, S. M. (1994). Source misattributions and the suggestibility of eyewitness memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition20(4), 934–945. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.20.4.934
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The empathy gap: how walking a mile in someone else’s shoes (and in your own shoes) is harder than it seems

November 26th, 2019 1 comment

You’d never do this… right? Source:

Growing up you are often told to exercise empathy and compassion by ‘walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’. However, what if I were to ask you, for example, if you’ve ever had a friend, usually super strict about only having safe sex, who told you about her last hookup, where in the heat of the moment decided to have unprotected sex. Did you judge that friend for being irresponsible even when that exact same thing happened to you a month ago? What if that same friend had told you this when you yourself had minutes ago just done the same thing? Do you think you would have had the same reaction?

Happen often? Source:

What if I now asked you to walk a mile in your own shoes. For example, have you ever gone grocery shopping with the intention of only buying what was on your list but ended up buying five million other things that you, in hindsight, after eating, never actually needed? Were you hungry/famished while doing the grocery shopping? Has this happened to you more than once? Did you question why this happened in the first place? Did you learn from your past experience? When repeated did you expect a different outcome from the last time you shopped while hungry?

If you answered yes to these questions then you most probably have fallen victim to the empathy gap. Read more…

Confabulations: I am honestly (not) lying to you

November 26th, 2019 No comments

Have you ever told someone a story about something that happened in your life only for them to reply with, “That didn’t happen”? Now, have you ever asked someone a question only to be answered with a story that didn’t quite add up? In those instances, did you swear you were telling the truth? Did they? Maybe you both were but somewhere along the way, a couple details drifted away from actuality and you honestly didn’t know it. Maybe you were confabulating.

Confabulations occur when a person presents memories that contain false or changed information without the conscious awareness that their memories did not actually happen. Sometimes these errors in memory are mistaken for lies, but it is important to note that there is a difference. Lies are intentional and often used to fool others, while confabulations are completely unintentional as the person themselves believe their memory to be true. Read more…

This is the best blog post, this is the best blog post, this is the best blog post…

November 26th, 2019 1 comment


Read it and weep, Wakefield

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield caused quite a stir in the public health realm after he published a dubious study in a renowned medical journal that suggested the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to the development of autism (Rao and Andrade, 2011). This study terrified parents and, consequently, led to a sharp decline in MMR vaccination rates among children. Shortly after Wakefield’s article was published, numerous scientific studies were conducted that refuted and disproved Wakefield’s fictitious claims. However, it took 12 whole years for the medical journal, the Lancet, to issue a formal retraction of Wakefield’s article on the grounds of deliberate fraud (Rao and Andrade, 2011). In the meantime, as a result of decreased vaccination rates, the measles came back in full force during 2008 and 2009 plaguing the UK, United States, and Canada (Rao and Andrade, 2011). How could such an unfounded claim inspire so much mistrust in vaccinations even after people became aware of the copious refutation studies, the formal retraction, and the fact that Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license over his erroneous declaration? Good question. The culprit in perpetuating the belief in this false claim was repetition.

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Don’t remember the Google Effect? Don’t worry, you can Google it.

November 25th, 2019 2 comments

Let’s step in the shoes of a typical college student for just a moment (think: Birkenstocks, Vans, or Adidas sneakers). You’re taking 16 credits, volunteering at the local elementary school, working in the library, and participating in countless other extracurriculars. Your brain is constantly moving a million miles a minute.

This is what happens when you’re utilizing a ton of cognitive resources!

In other words? You’re busy. Now let’s imagine you have a sociology paper due at midnight. You want to fine tune your conclusion with more relevant information about affordable housing, but you can’t seem to remember the median household income in Reno, Nevada. “No need to fret!” you think as you pull up the Google homepage on your sticker covered laptop. “Why utilize precious cognitive resources for something that I can quickly type into a search bar?” This, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of the Google Effect. Read more…

Don’t Worry, Your New Friend Isn’t Actually Following You

November 25th, 2019 1 comment

Imagine you are a college student at a party on a Saturday night. A friend introduces you to a guy that you have never met before; in fact, you have never even seen him before. The next day, you see the guy you just met in the dining hall, and then again later that afternoon in the library. Over the next few weeks, you start to feel like you see this guy everywhere you go on campus. This is called the frequency illusion.

When you meet a new person on campus and then you start seeing them all the time.

The frequency illusion is a cognitive bias that describes our tendency to see something we have recently been introduced to much more often than we remember in the past. The two major cognitive aspects of the frequency illusion are confirmation bias and selective attention (Zwicky, 2006). Confirmation bias occurs when people actively seek ways to confirm their original beliefs, while selective attention refers to our ability to focus on a particular stimulus while in the presence of multiple stimuli. Since attention is a limited resource, we are not able to attend to all of the stimuli that may be present in our environment. We need to recognize which is the most relevant, and dedicate our attentional resources to that stimulus. Read more…

Who Needs a Crystal Ball to See the Future When Hindsight Bias Makes You Feel as if You Knew it All Along

November 25th, 2019 1 comment

“I just can’t stand it anymore!” For the last two weeks, this has been Katie’s way of announcing to her mother that she is home from school. Why is Katie so upset? I’ll give you a hint- it’s March of her senior year and she is waiting on something…

You’re probably thinking, oh college decisions! That must be what she is waiting for.

Good guess, but this is something much more nerve-wracking.

She’s waiting for her crush to ask her to the senior prom.

“What happened today, sweetheart?,” her mom asked. “Ok, so it was during lunch and I was standing in front of Drew in the sandwich line. I totally saw him checking me out, so I thought, ‘might as well flash a smile his way’, so I smiled AND said hi to him. And you know what he did back? NOTHING. He pretended like I didn’t exist! Can you believe him?!”

“Well, maybe he didn’t see you Katie. I wouldn’t worry about it; I’ve seen the way he looks at you. Drew clearly likes you.” Katie groaned. “Sorry mom, but I think you’re wrong on this one. I’m just going to accept the fact that he NEVER is going to ask me out.”

“Just wait it out Katie; you always try to control the situation, but sometimes matters like this need time to work themselves out.” Katie rolled her eyes. “No, I think I’m just destined to live alone my whole life with only cats to keep me company. The sooner I accept reality the better.”

*One Week Later, Katie’s on the phone while walking into the house*

“Brittany, I know, what can I say, it was only a matter of time before he was going to ask me. Have you noticed the way he looks at me? I’ve known he was going to ask me the whole time.”

Katie may feel as if she knew it all along but she’s not fooling us…

“Katie, is that you? Did I just hear you say Drew finally asked you to the prom? This is so exciting! I told you not to worry.”

“Brittany, give me a second my mom is talking to me. What do you mean, worry? I’ve known he was going to ask me all along.”

*Katie leaves the room*

“Knew it all along huh?” Katie’s mom picked up an advertisement addressed to Katie from the counter. “I guess she won’t be needing this cat poster of the month subscription anymore”.

Like Katie’s mom, you may be confused as to why Katie suddenly feels as if she knew Drew was going to ask her all along when it’s evident she didn’t.

One possible explanation is hindsight bias.

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Get Ready…You’re Next.

November 24th, 2019 No comments

“When will I get to speak” – Instead of attending to Mr. Know-It-All, they wait in anticipation for their turn to speak next.

Imagine that you are in class and your teacher has split the class into multiple groups, assigning each group different chapters of your reading to summarize for the class. In your group, you collectively brainstorm with your other group members about chapter four and write down the main topics and themes that pop up throughout your discussion. When your teacher signals that it’s time for each group to share what they talked about, all your group members assign you to be the spokesperson since you have jotted down some general notes. “Yeah, sure. It’s no big deal,” you think to yourself. “It’s not a formal presentation or anything, I just have to summarize what we talked about.” The group’s spokesperson for chapter one goes first, followed by the group’s spokesperson for chapter two and then chapter three. As it nears your turn, you start to think about how to present a clear and concise summary to the class as your classmates have just done. All of a sudden, you’re up next, so you stand up and tell the class about the main topics your group discussed. When you sit back down, the group for chapter five begins to share, but you look back over your notes making sure you did not forget to include anything important. At the end of class, your teacher gives a mini quiz about the chapters the class just summarized, and you realize that you can’t really remember anything from the presentations on chapter three or five. What happened? You were subject to the next-in-line effect.

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The Real Reason We Like Subpar Art (and other self-creations)

November 23rd, 2019 No comments

I want you to think of the furniture in your house. There is the bedroom furniture set or the kitchen chairs or the family room couch or even the framed photos in the hallway. But, you know that self-constructed bookshelf, the one that is a little lopsided but “has character”? Or what about the barely-functional pinch pots you made in summer camp? If you are anything like me, you have held these items in your grips for years and can’t just throw them away. You built those things! Your blood, sweat, and tears (ok maybe that’s a stretch…) went into creating something and you like them. You like them maybe even more than store bought things. You are willing to pay more for something handmade. But should you? This trap you are falling into is so quirkily named the IKEA effect (yes after the Swedish furniture brand). This concept describes the tendency for people to overvalue products that they themselves created, even more than machine manufactured products. So yes, that handmade ornament by little cousin Johnny WILL remain on the Christmas tree for years to come, despite the poor craftsmanship!

What is valued does not always hold the highest value!

This effect was originally coined in the field of Consumer Psychology to describe cognitive processes that underlie consumer behavior. A study that first proposed the term described the tendency for people to overvalue their own creations. This effect does not just rely on objective value of the products either; IKEA boxes of the same caliber are rated as worth more money if they are self-assembled (Norton, Mochon, & Ariely, 2012) and so are origami structures and LEGO buildings (Norton, Mochon, & Ariely, 2012). Products themselves clearly hold intrinsic value to those beholding them, but other subjective factors are contributing to filling the gap between objective value and customer value. This is crazy! It seems like we are not consciously in control of our judgments on objects! Yikes!

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Life was Never that Rosy

November 22nd, 2019 No comments

If you’ve ever watched Disney’s Pixar movie Up (and if you haven’t, beware of spoilers), you might remember Carl and his late wife Ellie’s adventure book called ‘Stuff I’m Going to Do’. The movie shows Carl remembering happy memories as he flips through the book, such as when he and Ellie got married and when they went on a picnic. But where are the flashbacks of the time their house partially got destroyed by a fallen tree or when Ellie had an unfortunate miscarriage? Well, the obvious reason is because it’s a movie by Disney and Pixar, so it can’t be too sad for children watching. The less obvious reason is that Carl fell victim to rosy retrospection!

Scene of Carl Fredericksen reminiscing memories of his late wife Ellie from Up by Disney’s Pixar.

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