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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2009 Nov;138(4):449-68. doi: 10.1037/a0017350.

A stability bias in human memory: overestimating remembering and underestimating learning.

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Department of Psychology, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267, USA.


The dynamics of human memory are complex and often unintuitive, but certain features--such as the fact that studying results in learning--seem like common knowledge. In 12 experiments, however, participants who were told they would be allowed to study a list of word pairs between 1 and 4 times and then take a cued-recall test predicted little or no learning across trials, notwithstanding their large increases in actual learning. When queried directly, the participants espoused the belief that studying results in learning, but they showed little evidence of that belief in the actual task. These findings, when combined with A. Koriat, R. A. Bjork, L. Sheffer, and S. K. Bar's (2004) research on judgments of forgetting, suggest a stability bias in human memory--that is, a tendency to assume that the accessibility of one's memories will remain relatively stable over time rather than benefiting from future learning or suffering from future forgetting.

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