The distinctions of false and fuzzy memories

TitleThe distinctions of false and fuzzy memories
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsSchooler J.W.
JournalThe Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

Fuzzy-trace theory has recently been used to account for various types of “false memories” (Brainerd & Reyna, 1998, this issue). Although components of fuzzy-trace theory—in particular the distinction between gist and verbatim traces—overlap with distinctions made in other theories of memory, those in fuzzy-trace theory provide an illuminating account of the conditions under which semantic associates of previously seen items are erroneously recognized. However, the theory is less useful in explaining misinformation effects. Fuzzy-trace theory’s differential success in accounting for these two types of errors follows from one of its central implications: whereas misinformation effects involve false memories, the erroneous recognition of related lures is due to a reliance on authentic, but underspecified, gist memories. As its name suggests, fuzzy-trace theory is best at explaining memory errors resulting from fuzzy traces. Consistent with this view, fuzzy-trace theory helps to explain another source of memory errors (verbal overshadowing of nonverbal memories) that may also be best characterized as resulting from a reliance on fuzzy, rather than false, memories.

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