Memory Distortion: Source Amnesia, Misinformation Effect & Choice-Supportive Bias

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  • 0:04 Schema
  • 1:20 Source Amnesia
  • 1:55 Misinformation Effect
  • 2:46 Choice-Supportive Bias
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
With all the information we learn and process every day, it can be difficult to remember things accurately. Because of this, our memory can become distorted. In this lesson, we'll learn how our brain can trick us into falsely remembering details of our past experiences.


Imagine you're going on vacation to Hawaii. You've never been to Hawaii before, but you've been to the beach loads of times. You know you'll need flip flops, bathing suits, sunscreen and a good book. How do you know all this? You have a schema, or a set of expectations, for what a trip to the beach is like. You've never been to Hawaii, but your past experiences at the beach help you figure out what you need for your upcoming trip.

Schema is a fancy word used to explain how you organize information. Anytime you have a new experience, your brain unconsciously slots it into an existing schema. For example, if you're shopping at a new grocery store, you use your schema of grocery stores in general to help you find the peanut butter and milk.


Schemas are incredibly important to helping you make sense of everything going on in the world. If you had to start from scratch every time you entered a new store, you'd never get anything done! Unfortunately, schemas can also cause problems. Sometimes, you might think you remember things that didn't actually happen because those things are in your schema. If you always buy your peanut butter in aisle three but the new grocery store keeps the peanut butter in aisle four, you might have trouble remembering what aisle the peanut butter is in. Your schema says aisle three but the grocery store manager says differently!

Source Amnesia

Schemas can also cause problems because information is coming from too many places. Have you ever known something to be true but forgotten where you heard it? This is called source amnesia, and it means that you remember the information but have no idea where it came from. This can happen anytime you're getting information from lots of different places. Maybe you're searching for the best ticket prices to Hawaii, and you check all of the major travel sites. You've found the perfect tickets, but forgot to bookmark them. Source amnesia makes it hard to remember where you found the cheapest tickets. You can remember all the details about it - except where to buy them from.

Misinformation Effect

As I've said - schemas are essential to helping you make sense of everything you hear and see every day. But don't trust your schemas too much! Sometimes our memories can be changed if we receive some new information about an event. For example, if you spill a glass of water on your friend while lounging on the beach, she'll just get a little wet. But if you're talking about it later and say that you broke the glass, your friend might think she remembers seeing broken glass in addition to getting wet. This is called the misinformation effect, and it happens all the time when people are telling stories or anecdotes. If you tell a story over and over again, you might change the details a little bit every time. But watch out - the misinformation effect might actually cause you to remember the wrong version of the story. You might think that would never happen to you, but studies have found that a certain number of people truly believe stories that never actually happened to them.

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