Document Type

Journal Article

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One to 54 years after graduating, 276 alumni correctly recalled 3,025 of 3,967 college grades. Omission errors increased with the retention interval, and better students made fewer errors. Accuracy of recall increased with confidence in recall. Eighty-one percent of commission errors inflated the actual grade. Distortions occur soon after graduation, remain constant during the retention interval, and are greater for better students and for courses students enjoyed most. Confidence in recall is unrelated to distortion. Courses that were not freely recalled, but had to be cued, were recalled less accurately and with less distortion. The data support a supplementary theory of memory distortion. The theory assumes that forgetting and distorting memory content are relatively independent processes, that relevant generic memories are used to fill in gaps after episodic memory fails, that systematic distortions affect autobiographical content that is emotionally and motivationally valenced, and that most individuals supplement with content that is emotionally more gratifying than the veridical content. The data conflict with dynamic displacement theories according to which screen memories actively block access to unpleasant veridical content.


College of Health and Public Administration

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