Research Article: False Memory ≠ False Memory: DRM Errors Are Unrelated to the Misinformation Effect

Date Published: April 3, 2013

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): James Ost, Hartmut Blank, Joanna Davies, Georgina Jones, Katie Lambert, Kelly Salmon, Lin Lu.


The DRM method has proved to be a popular and powerful, if controversial, way to study ‘false memories’. One reason for the controversy is that the extent to which the DRM effect generalises to other kinds of memory error has been neither satisfactorily established nor subject to much empirical attention. In the present paper we contribute data to this ongoing debate. One hundred and twenty participants took part in a standard misinformation effect experiment, in which they watched some CCTV footage, were exposed to misleading post-event information about events depicted in the footage, and then completed free recall and recognition tests. Participants also completed a DRM test as an ostensibly unrelated filler task. Despite obtaining robust misinformation and DRM effects, there were no correlations between a broad range of misinformation and DRM effect measures (mean r  = −.01). This was not due to reliability issues with our measures or a lack of power. Thus DRM ‘false memories’ and misinformation effect ‘false memories’ do not appear to be equivalent.

Partial Text

Driven by the controversy surrounding cases of adults who have reported recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse for which they claim to have been previously unaware, a large body of literature has focussed on variables that influence how such claims arise [1]. One important line of work has focused on individual differences and has shown that, for example, people who score higher on measures of dissociative experiences [2], [3], or who are fantasy prone [4] are more susceptible to certain kinds of memory errors. The present paper continues this focus on individual differences and examines whether individuals who endorse misinformation are also more susceptible to semantic intrusions in the DRM (Deese-Roediger-McDermott) task [5].

These data were collected as part of a larger experiment on whether the strength, rather than the source, of misleading information is a key determinant of the misinformation effect. Full details of the design and procedure for that experiment are available from the authors and only the information relevant to the present study is presented here.

The first steps were to determine whether we had obtained (1) a DRM ‘false memory’ effect and (2) a misinformation effect (the means and standard errors are shown in Tables 1 and 2, respectively).

The aim of the current experiment was to establish whether any aspect of DRM memory performance was related to the endorsement of misleading PEI. Despite obtaining robust and powerful DRM and misinformation effects, none of the measures were significantly related (and this lack of relation was not due to measurement unreliability or lack of power). This was true at the level of participants’ overt responses (i.e., number of DRM items falsely recalled and/or recognised), as well as at the level of sensitivity and response bias. Recall that previous work on the relationship between DRM memory performance and memory errors has produced mixed findings. Some research shows that participants who recounted false autobiographical memories of abduction by space aliens [13] and of past lives [7] also reported more DRM lures. In our data however we found no relationship between memory errors and the recall or recognition of DRM lures, in line with the work on laboratory-induced memory errors [3], [15], [16].