Self‐relevance enhances susceptibility to false memory

Jianqin Wang, Bihan Wang, Henry Otgaar, Lawrence Patihis, Melanie Sauerland

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Eyewitness testimony serves as important evidence in the legal system. Eyewitnesses of a crime can be either the victims themselves—for whom the experience is highly self-referential—or can be bystanders who witness and thus encode the crime in relation to others. There is a gap in past research investigating whether processing information in relation to oneself versus others would later impact people's suggestibility to misleading information. In two experiments (Ns = 68 and 122) with Dutch and Chinese samples, we assessed whether self-reference of a crime event (i.e., victim vs. bystander) affected their susceptibility to false memory creation. Using a misinformation procedure, we photoshopped half of the participants' photographs into a crime slideshow so that they saw themselves as victims of a nonviolent crime, while others watched the slideshow as mock bystander witnesses. In both experiments, participants displayed a self-enhanced suggestibility effect: Participants who viewed themselves as victims created more false memories after receiving misinformation than those who witnessed the same crime as bystanders. These findings suggest that self-reference might constitute a hitherto new risk factor in the formation of false memories when evaluating eyewitness memory reports.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioral Sciences & the Law
Early online date31 Jan 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 31 Jan 2024


  • bystander
  • false memory
  • misinformation
  • victim
  • self

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