Metacognitive inferences from other people’s memory performance

Robert Smith, N. Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Three studies show that people draw metacognitive inferences about events from how well others remember the event. Given that memory fades over time, detailed accounts of distant events suggest that the event must have been particularly memorable, for example, because it was extreme. Accordingly, participants inferred that a physical assault (Study 1) or a poor restaurant experience (Studies 2-3) were more extreme when they were well remembered one year rather than one week later. These inferences influence behavioral intentions. For example, participants recommended a more severe punishment for a well-remembered distant rather than recent assault (Study 1). These metacognitive inferences are eliminated when people attribute the reporter's good memory to an irrelevant cause (e.g., photographic memory), thus undermining the informational value of memory performance (Study 3). These studies illuminate how people use lay theories of memory to learn from others' memory performance about characteristics of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-294
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


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