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Memory. 2010 Aug;18(6):670-8. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2010.501558.

Memory and the Moses illusion: failures to detect contradictions with stored knowledge yield negative memorial consequences.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, 9 Flowers Drive, Durham, NC 27708-0086, USA.


Although contradictions with stored knowledge are common in daily life, people often fail to notice them. For example, in the Moses illusion, participants fail to notice errors in questions such as "How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?" despite later showing knowledge that the Biblical reference is to Noah, not Moses. We examined whether error prevalence affected participants' ability to detect distortions in questions, and whether this in turn had memorial consequences. Many of the errors were overlooked, but participants were better able to catch them when they were more common. More generally, the failure to detect errors had negative memorial consequences, increasing the likelihood that the errors were used to answer later general knowledge questions. Methodological implications of this finding are discussed, as it suggests that typical analyses likely underestimate the size of the Moses illusion. Overall, answering distorted questions can yield errors in the knowledge base; most importantly, prior knowledge does not protect against these negative memorial consequences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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