Updating memory for fact and fiction

July 23, 2014 by David Stacey

Sunlight can make people sneeze. Sounds ludicrous? But it's true - it's called a photic sneeze reflex, and can occur in about one out of four people. Did you believe that fingerprints are unique to each individual? That, by contrast, is a myth - some fingerprints can be so similar that forensic experts assume they are a 'match' when they actually belong to different individuals.

We are exposed to an abundance of information, and sometimes it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. Researchers of the Cognitive Science Laboratory of The University of Western Australia are investigating how people process surprising facts and common myths. The team, led by Associate Professor Ullrich Ecker, is particularly interested in why common myths are so difficult to eradicate in society. For a current study, they are calling for volunteers over the age of 50 to help understand how people update their memory and beliefs regarding surprising facts and common myths.

Correcting common misconceptions can be extremely difficult, as retractions - simply stating that something is not true - are typically not very effective. In part, this could be because retractions repeat the myth in order to correct it. For example, stating that ' are not 100 per cent unique to each individual' repeats the association between 'fingerprints' and 'uniqueness', making this false link more familiar. This is problematic as people tend to assume that familiar information is true. Retractions can therefore ironically strengthen the misconceptions they are trying to correct. Older adults may be particularly susceptible to this effect, as memory for detail deteriorates with age, while familiarity-based memory does not.

A new study by Professor Ecker and his PhD student Briony Swire will explore how people process corrections of common myths and affirmations of surprising facts. Participants will be required to read various statements, both facts and myths, and rate how much they believe in each one. They will learn whether the statements were actually true or false before answering questions regarding the statements as well as re-rating their beliefs.

Explore further: Defining allergy fact from fiction

Related Stories

Defining allergy fact from fiction

November 7, 2013
From gluten allergy and hypoallergenic pets, to avoiding the flu shot because of an egg allergy, there are a lot of common myths and misconceptions about allergies. Many might be shocking due to a great deal of false information ...

New book by Indiana University physicians slays health myths we all thought were true

July 7, 2011
Don't Cross Your Eyes...They'll Get Stuck that Way!, a new book by myth-fighting Indiana University School of Medicine pediatricians Aaron Carroll, M.D., M.S., and Rachel Vreeman, M.D., M.S., debunks the pearls of medical ...

The 'Death panel' myth hard to correct: Researchers examine the effectiveness of fact checking

January 9, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—More than three years after she coined the phrase "death panel," Sarah Palin's remark continues to inflame the debate over health care.

Busting common myths about the flu vaccine

October 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—With cold and flu season upon us, many companies have geared up for what is predicted to be a busy flu season producing 150 million doses of the influenza vaccine, up 17 million from last year.

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ar18
not rated yet Jul 23, 2014
Sometimes government organizations will step in and fuel the myths. For example, the CIA and UFOs, lie detectors, or the propaganda that wars can help men develop noble qualities like bravery or heroism in a way that no other thing can.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.