Kristy Donahue
                                                                                 mailto: kdonahue@anselm.edu
 A Closer Look at Gender Differences for Suggestibility and False Memories
Background Research Question Method
Results Implications Relevant Links

Background
 

    False memory creation combines the knowledge of an individual with the subject matter of a suggestion in a way that makes them inseparable (Loftus, 1997).  One type of false memory creation that does not involve implanting entirely false memories into an individual's mind is often termed the misinformation paradigm which was first used by Elizabeth Loftus (1975) in a study that examined suggestibility in adults.  In the misinformation paradigm, participants watch a short film depicting an event and subsequently read an account of the event that happened in the film.  Half of the participants make up a control group that receive an accurate description of the event, whereas the other half of the participants, the experimental group, receive an account of the event that includes some information that was not present in the film they viewed (i.e., misinformation).  Finally, an information recognition test is given to all participants.
     Many studies have been conducted to examine individual differences in false memories.  One such study was conducted by Scullin and Hembrooke (1997) to detect differences in suggestibility level between those who are the most accepting of false memories and those who are the least accepting.  The authors utilized the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale (Gudjonsson, 1984) in their study and discovered that the higher level of suggestibility a participant had, the more accepting of false memories they were.
     Finally, the literature does not show any studies examining the relationship between suggestibility and gender, however, it does show many studies examining the relationship between persuasibility/conformity level (which relate to suggestibility) and gender that have been conducted in the past (e.g., Eagly, 1978).  All of these studies have found that females are generally more persuasible/conforming than males.
 


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Research Question
 
    The goals of the current study were to examine the relationship between misinformation and the number of items one incorrectly identifies on an information recognition test, the relationship between suggestibility and one's tendency to accept misinformation as correct, the relationship between gender and suggestibility, and the relationship between gender and the tendency to accept misinformation as correct.
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Method

    This study consisted of 18 participants (11 female, 7 male) with a mean age of 19 years old who were selected from the department research pool at Saint Anselm college.  This study utilized the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale (Form 2; GSS; Gudjonsson, 1987).  Scores on this scale were determined by the number of answers in which an individual changed from a correct answer in the first trial to an incorrect answer in the second trial on suggestive questions.  The other instrument utilized in this study was the misinformation paradigm first described by Elizabeth Loftus (1975).  A misinformation paradigm was created for this study utilizing a video of a robbery (Donahue, 2000).  The paradigm was scored in terms of the number of incorrect answers one scored on the information recognition test at the conclusion of the misinformation paradigm. 

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Results

    Participants in the misinformation (i.e., experimental) condition of the misinformation paradigm had a significantly greater number of incorrect answers on the information recognition test than did participants in the correct information (i.e., control) condition of the paradigm.  Results of this study also suggest that suggestibility is related to the number of incorrect answers an individual gives on an information recognition test in the misinformation paradigm, in that within the misinformation group, 75% of those individuals considered highly suggestible (i.e., changed their answer from correct to incorrect at least twice on the GSS), also answered at least two questions incorrectly on the information recognition test.  Therefore, the findings of this study suggest that both the misinformation paradigm and the GSS may be used to identify the same individuals.  Finally, the results of this study pointed in the predicted direction for gender differences (i.e., females changed their answer from incorrect to correct more times than males).

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Implications

    The findings of this study suggest that eyewitness testimony in the judicial system should be carefully considered; especially since the individual recalling the memory is not aware that his or her recall may be inaccurate.  Therefore, if possible, the testimony of more than one individual is at the very least appropriate, if not necessary, in all court cases using eyewitness testimony.  Any time it is necessary for an individual to recall an event in which enough time has passed for other information to be received by that individual, there is the potential for the memory of that event to be altered.  This can affect all aspects of society, not just the legal aspects, although it may have potentially more harmful effects within the legal system.
 
 

Relevant Links

  •   Elizabeth Loftus         This web site contains all the articles and books written by Elizabeth Loftus on the topic of memories                                (including information on the misinformation paradigm).
  •  False Memories          This web site offers pointers to key resources about false memories.  The site also allows one to e-mail the                      author of the page and receive articles written pertaining to false memories.  Finally, this site offers links to recent relevant articles.
  •   Suggestibility Scales   This web site gives a brief overview of the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale (GSS), the GSS Form 2 and                              the Gudjonsson Compliance Scale (GSC). 
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