Special Session Summary the Deleterious Act of Recollection

Kathryn Braun, Harvard University
[ to cite ]:
Kathryn Braun (1999) ,"Special Session Summary the Deleterious Act of Recollection", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 90-93.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 90-93



Kathryn Braun, Harvard University

[This term was first used in Schooler, Foster and Loftus (1988).]

"It isn’t so astonishing, the number of things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren’t so.@CMark Twain

What is remembered is different from how it is stored. Most marketing research has focused on memory storage, and describes memory for these items in quantifiable terms (for example, Alba, Hutchinson & Lynch (1991) discuss the dominance of research on brand and advertising recall). The intent of this session was to discuss what is recalled, and through a reconstructive process recall is hardly ever really exact, though the phenomenological aspects of remembering may make it seem veridical.

Factors such as imagery, vividness, repetition have been found as beneficial in securing accurate representations as creating false ones. The difficulty is that there seems to be no significant correlation between the subjective feeling of certainty a consumer has about a memory and that memory being accurate. Further, elderly and children, generally considered "protected classes," have been found to generate more false memories than average consumers. We present several studies that demonstrate the reconstructive nature of memory and discuss its implications for marketing research design, communication strategy and social policy.


When confronted with phenomena we can't quite understand, it is natural to relate them to things we do. This has been particularly salient with philosophers and psychologists representation of human memory. Spatial metaphors have been most used to describe memory and mind (Roediger 1980). For instance, we speak of ideas "being accessible" or "top of mind" or on the "tip-of-our tongue." Aristotle portrayed the mind as a wax tablet where environmental inputs were passively taken in and stored. He believed that it was impossible to think without a picture and developed the use of mnemonic devices where to-be- remembered information could be forever stored within the "memory palace."

Since the early Greeks new technological storage-based metaphors have been advanced to describe memory: where we have moved from the wax tablet to the gramophone, tape recorder, switchboard, and most recently, the computer. But even this most recent metaphor fails to capture the complexity of the human memory system. Antonio Damasio says human recall is not simply a matter of clicking on the proper icon to call up a desired document from the brain's hard disk.

Aristotle differentiated between memory and remembering, viewing reminiscence as a special subjective experience. Traditional memory research has focused on how information is stored in memory, beginning with Hermann Ebbinghaus' memorization of nonsense syllables to develop a mathematical forgetting curves. Marketing research has generally followed traditional memory research practices, where tightly controlled experiments have facilitated the quantification of memory information, and the "storage bin" metaphor, proposed by Robert Wyer and Thomas Srull (1980), has pervaded in the interpretation of results (e.g., as in information processing models). Ulric Neisser (1978) pushed for a more realistic study of memory beyond the laboratory. The criterion for evaluating memories moved from the number of items recalled, to its correspondence between what was reported and what actually happened.

This "everyday" memory movement has been marked by a new metaphor: reconstruction, a view credited to Sir Frederic Bartlett's research in the 1930s. The primary means of differentiating this view from the store-house metaphor is that this act of reconstruction can have deleterious consequences, such as in the creation of false memories. A 'false memory' is a memory based upon hearsay or suggestion, remembering having experienced things that never actually happened. Elizabeth Loftus and other cognitive psychologists have shown repeatedly that memory of complex real-world events can undergo systematic and predictable distortions. They have shown there is no significant correlation between the subjective feeling of certainty a person has about a memory and that memory being accurate. An important question for marketers, then, concerns the degree to which they can (or do) exert an influence on this process.


Gerald Zaltman began by discussing evidence from neurology, biology and psychology that are bringing new insights into the human memory process. He presented several illusions that demonstrate how the brain’s need to make a meaningful representation of incoming sensory data can sometimes lead us to construct images that differ from the objective evidence at hand. He discussed the results of a study showing systematic intrusions into consumer memory that cannot be explained through memory as currently represented in the marketing literature.

Kathryn Braun discussed research she has done with Elizabeth Loftus extending the cognitive findings of misinformation to the consumer domain. Traditionally, the cognitive research has used more credible sources to provide is information to simulate what might occur with a police officer or psychologist questioning. Here they found that even advertising (an oft discounted source of information) was found to affect recall, even when subjects were warned that the information was unreliable.

Research has found that memories aren’t so much imprinted as Aristotle suggested, but created. Factors such as imagery, vividness, repetition have been found as beneficial in securing accurate representations as creating false ones. In Braun and Loftus (in press) it was found pictorial images in advertising both led to stronger false memories and more accurate recall of the original information. The following two speakers addressed other factors involved in the memory creation process. In addition, to keep with conference objectives as "being intergenerational" their work features subjects who might be considered "protected classes." Because these groups typically generate more false memories than average consumers the results have social policy consequences. Sharmistha Law discussed her research on repetition-induced false memories and reported the differential findings she has noticed in elderly and student subjects. Her research focused on one type of memory distortion: source confusion. Laura Melynyk presented her work with young children. Her research uses a mnemonic deviceC picture drawingC generally thought to be a means to accurately place memories in the "memory palace." Her work finds otherwise; such devices can lead to false memories that endure over time.

The session ended with a question and answer period led by Jerry Zaltman.


Alba, J., Hutchinson, W. & Lynch, J. (1991). Memory and decision making. In T.S. Robertson & H.K. Kassarjian, (Eds.) Handbook of Consumer Behavior. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1-49.

Roediger, R.H. III (1980), "Memory metaphors in cognitive psychology," Memory & Cognition, 8, 231-246.

Schooler, J.W., Foster, R.A., & Loftus, E.F. (1988), "Some deleterious consequences of the act of recollection," Memory & Cognition, 16, 243-251.

Neisser, U. (1978), "Memory: what are the important questions?" In M.M. Gruneberg, P.E. Morris & R.N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory, London: Academic Press.

Wyer, R.S. & Srull, T.K. (1980), "The processing of social stimulus information: A conceptual integration," In R. Hastie, T.M. Ostrom, R.S. Wyer, D.L. Hamilton, & D.E. Carlsons (Eds.), Person memory: The cognitive basis of social perception, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.



Kathryn A. Braun, Harvard University

Gerald Zaltman, Harvard University

Past research has shown that marketing communications received prior to a product experience can alter how consumers interpret that experience. This is an important issue because consumers genuinely believe they rely on own-experienced information when making decisions and discount the effect of advertising or other second-hand sources of information. Experience is malleable (Hoch and Deighton, 1989). "New" findings of how the mind/brain work to integrate information point to the potential for influence on learning even after an experiene has occurred, due to the reconstructive process of memory (Schacter, 1995). This view finds that memory for past product experiences is not exact or complete and can be influenced by external suggestive material. When this influence occurs after the experience we call it "backward framing." It can also have influence on consumer behavior because the feelings associated with recalling a past experience, it’s clarity or concreteness, may make consumers believe their past experience is more in line with the newer received marketing communication. These more favorable memories created by after-the-fact marketing are apt to influence present consumer judgments and future buying behavior. Consumers recall their past product or service experience differently as a result of subsequent marketing communication without being aware that their memory has changed.

Though there is much support for this reconstructive view to memory outside marketing, within marketing the traditional view of memory remains in which memories for prior experiences and judgments are thought to be permanently stored, awaiting access for decision making. The most a marketer might hope to do, under this view, is to update those prior made experiences or judgments with newer information. For various reasons this is probably a less effective strategy than one which influences recall. With a reconstructive approach (and perspective) to memory the potential exists for even more external influence on consumer learning because the experience has had time to fade and therefore become more amenable to suggestion.

In this paper we describe two experiments the first investigates whether a critic’s opinion as an external informational frame can exert an influence on consumer learning from a movie experience when it is presented both before and after that experience. In addition, we assess how aware consumers are of that influence on their judgments in order to determine the consciousness of this effect. After finding that the effect of this information after the experience was as large (or even greater) than when it preceded the experience, we conducted a second experiment to disentangle the explanations for this influence. In this investigation our respondents watched a movie trailer and made judgments about their evaluation of the movie’s quality. Later they received either positive or negative critic information. Still later they were tested for their memories of their previously-made judgments. We found a valence-consistent shift in those recollections, where those that received the positive critic information believed they had initially been more favorable in their rating of the movie and those that received the negative critic believed they had not enjoyed it. We discuss the managerial significance of these reconstructive memory findings for communication and survey design.


Braun, K. & Zaltman, G. (in press), "Backward framing: A theory of memory reconstruction," MSI’s Working Paper series.

Hoch, S. J. & Deighton, J. (1989), "Managing what consumers learn from experience," Journal of Marketing, 53, 1-20.

Schacter (1995), Memory distortion: How minds, brains and societies reconstruct the past, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.



Kathryn A. Braun, Harvard University

Elizabeth F. Loftus, University of Washington

We know that many individuals have a past experience that is related to the advertising that they are currently viewing. We also know that advertising for products that consumers have already purchased is especially likely to be noticed (Lodish, Abrahamson, Kalmenson, Livelsberger, Lubetkin, Richardson & Stevens, 1995), and much theorizing exists to explain why this might be so (e.g., Cohen & Goldberg, 1970 offer a dissonance reduction explanation). But none of this discussion concerns the possibility that advertising might have a retroactive effect and change the way a past experience with the product is remembered. We refer to this phenomenon as the "advertising misinformation effect." The term comes, of course, from an adaptation of the more general "misinformation effect" in cognitive psychology where it has been repeatedly shown that misleading information presented after a previously experienced event can change the way people recall the past event (e.g., Loftus, 1977).

The current research examining the advertising misinformation effect explores whether misleading advertising about a previously experienced product can change people’s memory for the color of the product’s wrapping. In this study, respondents viewed a green wrapper around a chocolate bar during what they thought was a product taste test. Later, they saw an advertisement suggesting that the wrapper was blue, either in a visual or verbal way. Finally, respondents were tested on their memories for the color of the product that they had previously experienced. As predicted, we found an advertising misinformation effect: respondents were far more likely to misremember the color of the wrapper after exposure to the misleading ad. To assess whether these two types of misinformation memories were phenomenologically different, we asked whether respondents actually "remembered" seeing the reported color, or whether they simply "knew" it to be the color (after Tulving, 1985). The visual misinformation exerted more influence on the phenomenological aspects of retrieval, resulting in more "remember" judgments.

After producing an advertising misinformation effect in Experiment l, our subsequent studies explored additional issues. Specifically, we explored whether warning respondents that they may have been exposed to misinformation lessens the advertising misinformation effect (Experiment 2). This advertising misinformation effect did not dissipate when with the warning. In Experiment 3, we conducted a survey to see when (and if) color is considered an important dimension in consumer decision making. In Experiment 4 we looked at whether our color change would be associated with meaningful subjective evaluations of the product. We found that a memory change can be directly linked to consumer subjective judgments and choices when the misled information is particularly salient. We discuss the implications of our research for deceptive and corrective advertising.


Braun, K. & Loftus, E.F. (in press), "Advertising’s misinformation effect," Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Cohen, J. B. & Goldberg, M.E. (1970), "The dissonance model in post-decision product evaluation," Journal of Marketing Research, 7, 315-21.

Lodish, L.M., Abrahamson, M., Kalmenson, S., Livelsberger, J., Lubetkin, B., Richardson, B. & Stevens, M. E. (1995). How T.V. advertising works," Journal of Marketing Research, 32, 124-139.

Loftus, E. F. (1977), "Shifting human color memory," Memory & Cognition, 5, 696-699.

Tulving, E. (1985), "Memory and consciousness," Canadian Psychologist, 26, 1-12.



Sharmistha Law, University of Toronto

Consumers commonly hold false beliefs about advertising claims (e.g., Law, Hawkins & Craik, 1998). For instance, the ad copy of a Nike commercial may come to a consumer’s mind but get misattributed to a more credible source such as Consumer Reports. Or, the mere repetition of a fictitious product claim may increase consumers’ belief in the claimBthe truth effect (Hawkins & Hoch, 1992). Source memory is obviously important in the context of source misattribution, and it has been suggested that source memory may play a mediating role in the truth effect (Arkes, Boehm, & Xu, 1991; Boehm, 1994). Since there is growing evidence that remembering source information is difficult with advancing age, it is of interest to inquire how this decline impacts on the elderly and their false beliefs regarding ad claims. The objective of the research presented here was to better understand the role of source memory in mediating beliefs, and how impaired source memory impacts the elderly as consumers.

Experiment 1 assessed the level of memory impairment in the elderly, as compared to the young, and its influence on the truth effect. The elderly, who showed poorer recognition and source memory for the claims, were also more susceptible to the truth inflating effect of repetition relative to the young. Experiment 2 attempted to "repair" the memory deficit in the elderly by providing more cognitive support at encoding. When both young and elderly subjects engaged in a mental imagery task during encoding, their memory performance was equivalent and differences in the truth effect were abolished. Thus, it appears that the elderly are more susceptible to the truth effect than their younger counterparts, and this age-related difference seems to be mediated via their poorer item and source memory. However, if memory is enhanced, using environmental support, this age-related vulnerability towards holding "false" beliefs is no longer apparent.

A persistent finding in the truth effect literature as well as in the studies just discussed is that misattributions about the source of a claim to an extra-experimental source leads to highest false beliefs (Arkes, Hackett, & Boehm, 1989; Arkes et al., 1991; Boehm, 1994). Presumably, subjects in these studies considered the extra-experimental sources to be more trustworthy and hence trusted claims attributed to outside sources more than claims attributed to the experimental setting. Experiment 3 was designed to investigate when source credibility exerts its influence on subsequent beliefs about product claims. Is the influence of a source’s credibility exerted at the time when the message is encoded? Or, is the effect exerted when the message and its source is retrieved when making a decision? Or, at both times? Results show that source remembered at retrieval, regardless of the source at encoding, has the greatest impact on the belief ratings of ad claims. Implications of these findings for general advertising practices and in particular, for the elderly segment of the population will be discussed.


Arkes, H.R., Boehm, L. E., & Xu, G. (1991), "Determinantsof judged validity," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 27, 576-605.

Arkes, H.R., Hacket,, C., & Boehm, L. (1989), "The generality of the relation between familiarity and judged validity," Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 2, 81-94.

Boehm, L.E. (1994), "The validity effect: A search for mediating variables," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 285-293.

Hawkins, S.A, & Hoch, S.J. (1992), "Low-involvement learning: Memory without evaluation," Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 212-225.

Law, S., Hawkins, S.A., & Craik, F.I.M. (in press), "Repetition-induced belief in the elderly: Rehabilitating age-related memory deficits," Journal of Consumer Research.



Laura Melnyk, McGill University

In the past ten years, the increasing numbers of young children testifying in court has prompted a great deal of research examining young children’s suggestibility. This research has implications for marketers who depend on children for reliable research data and for marketing communications that attempt to influence children’s behavior.

Overall, the cognitive research has found that obtaining complete and accurate reports from young children is problematic for several reasons: First, when young children are asked very general questions, such as "Tell me what happened," their responses tend to be sparse, although much of what they do say is accurate. A second reason is that under certain circumstances, young children are highly suggestible. Research has consistently shown that young children are more prone than older children and adults to incorporate misinformation into their reports and to be swayed by leading and misleading questions (e.g., Ceci & Bruck 1993). Because young children respond with only brief answers to open-ended questions, interviewers need to rely on more specific questions to elicit more information from children. However, in doing so, these specific questions are often leading or misleading, and may therefore influence children’s suggestibility. These two factors create major potential problems in eliciting information from children in conversations.

The present study summarizes recent findings on interviewing techniques that have a high risk of producing inaccurate reports in young children. These techniques at times not only produce inaccurate reports, but produce false beliefs, and at times make children appear highly credible when they are producing false reports. Our first study examined the use of "drawing" as a reminder technique with preschoolers. After watching a magic show, preschool children received true and false reminders about the show: Half drew the reminders and half only heard them. When later asked what really happened, children in the drawing conditions remembered more than the other children, but also provided more false reports. Yet, they had less difficulty differentiating true events from false reminders. These results highlight the potential positive and negative effects of using drawing as a mnemonic device and suggest that techniques eliciting high false report rates may not necessarily result in equally high numbers of source misattributions. Data from a follow-up study reveals a significant misinformation effect for children in both conditions after 15 months, indicating that the suggestions had long-term effects on the children’s event memory. This is an important new finding in suggestibility and false memory research, and points to the potential long-term effects of suggestive interviewing.


Bruck, M., Ceci, S. J., & Melnyk, L. (in press), "External and internal sources of variation in the creation of false reports in children," Learning and Individual Differences.

Ceci, S. J., Loftus, E. F., Leichtman, M., & Bruck, M. (1994)., "The role of source misattributions in the creation of false beliefs among preschoolers," International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 62, 304-320.

Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993), " Suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis," Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403-439.

Melnyk, L., Bruck, M., & Ceci, S. J. (1997a, July), " Win, lose, or draw: The effect of drawing on children’s suggestibility and source monitoring ability," In A. Crossman (Chair), Psycho-legal implications of false memory research. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, Toronto, Canada.