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Source Monitoring: Did It Really Happen?

21 September, 2015 - 12:31

One potential error in memory involves mistakes in differentiating the sources of information. Source monitoring refers to the ability to accurately identify thsourcof a memory. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of wondering whether you really experienced an event or only dreamed or imagined it. If so, you wouldn’t be alone. Rassin, Merkelbach, and Spaan (2001) 1reported that up to 25% of college students reported being confused about real versus dreamed events. Studies suggest that people who are fantasy-prone are more likely to experience source monitoring errors (Winograd, Peluso, & Glover, 1998), 2 and such errors also occur more often for both children and the elderly than for adolescents and younger adults (Jacoby & Rhodes, 2006). 3

In other cases we may be sure that we remembered the information from real life but be uncertain about exactly where we heard it. Imagine that you read a news story in a tabloid magazine such as the National Enquirer. Probably you would have discounted the information because you know that its source is unreliable. But what if later you were to remember the story but forget the source of the information? If this happens, you might become convinced that the news story is true because you forget to discount it. The sleeper effectrefers to attitude change that occurs over time when wforget the sourcof information (Pratkanis, Greenwald, Leippe, & Baumgardner, 1988). 4

In still other cases we may forget where we learned information and mistakenly assume that we created the memory ourselves. Kaavya Viswanathan, the author of the book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, GotWild, and Got a Life, was accused of plagiarism when it was revealed that many parts of her book were very similar to passages from other material. Viswanathan argued that she had simply forgotten that she had read the other works, mistakenly assuming she had made up the material herself. And the musician George Harrison claimed that he was unaware that the melody of his song “My Sweet Lord” was almost identical to an earlier song by another composer. The judge in the copyright suit that followed ruled that Harrison didn’t intentionally commit the plagiarism. (Please use this knowledge to become extra vigilant about source attributions in your written work, not to try to excuse yourself if you are accused of plagiarism.)