G. Echterhoff& W.Hirst: Guest EditorialSocialPsychology2009; Vol. 40(3):106–110© 2009HogrefePublishing
Social Influence on Memory
Gerald Echterhoff1and William Hirst2(Guest Editors)
1Jacobs University Bremen, Germany, 2New School for Social Research, New York, USA
Human memory does not record and store information like
technical devices. Rather, memory can deviate in various
ways from the original experience of an event. It is fragile
and potentially unreliable. Some deviations from the orig-
inal experience can be attributed to forgetting or trace de-
cay, while other deviations reflect systematic biases and
distortions (e.g., McDermott & Chan, 2003; Schacter,
1999). According to a view that has been prominent since
the 1970s, memories are dynamic and temporary construc-
tions that are profoundly shaped by a host of factors like
the rememberers’ cognitive schemata, attitudes, and envi-
ronmental conditions (see, e.g., Conway & Pleydell-
Pearce, 2000). An important source of environmental in-
fluences is contact and exchange with other people. Sur-
prisingly, memory researchers have, for a long time now,
paid little attention to such social influences on memory,
while social psychologists have almost exclusively focused
on attitude, judgment, and behavior rather than memory as
the object of social influence. Investigations of whether and
how memories can be biased through contact with others
have clearly played the second fiddle in influence research
conducted in social psychology (see Bless, Strack, & Wal-
ther, 2001).Testifying to this deficit, Roediger and McDer-
mott (2000) concluded the following in a chapter of a ref-
erence handbook on memory research:
“One area of inquiry that has received little investigation thus
far is the influence that social factors can impose upon the
memory of an individual.” (p. 157)
Only in recent years have efforts to illuminate antecedents,
processes, and consequences of social influence on mem-
ory intensified. This special issue presents current research
that makes further progress in this endeavor, promoting a
more integrated understanding of the social dimensions of
memory. In the following we briefly trace the development
and main findings of related research at the interface of
memory and social psychology and outline the contribu-
tions of the six papers collected in this issue.
Seminal investigations of biasing influences on memory
were conducted by Loftus and colleagues in the 1970s (e.g.,
Loftus, Miller, & Burns, 1975; for reviews see Loftus,
1979, 2005). Their research demonstrated that eyewitness-
es can be led to remember false information about an event
that is conveyed to them by subtle means, such as presup-
positions in questions about a witnessed event. However,
in these and many subsequent studies, the source of the
biasing information was merely implicitly present, presum-
ably being the experimenter or researcher. In recent years
researchers have extended the approach to include other
social sources of biasing information, for instance,another
participant (Gabbert, Memon, & Allan, 2003; Wright, Self,
& Justice, 2000) or a confederate of the experimenter
(Meade & Roediger, 2002; Reysen, 2005; Roediger,
Meade, & Bergman, 2001). In these studies the biasing so-
cial sources are physically present and interact with the to-
be-influenced participant, thus allowing the investigation
of social influence in more realistic conversational settings
than was afforded by the earlier approaches. This body of
research has focused on how a speaker may implant biasing
information in a listener or replace information already ex-
isting in the listener’s mind with new information. The typ-
ical structure of social influence in these studies is dyadic,
and unilateral communication about the past in which bi-
asing information from a source is transmitted to an indi-
vidual recipient, who is the target of influence.
Related research has been concerned with how com-
munication about the past in small groups shapes
memory (e.g., Basden, Basden, Bryner, & Thomas,1997;
Weldon & Bellinger, 1997). The typical arena of social
influence in these studies involves multilateral commu-
nication about past experiences between more than two
people, who can be both transmitters and recipients of
information. Regarding quantitative performance it was
found that the recall of actual groups is often worse than
the recall of so-called nominal groups, i.e., the pooled
recall performance of individual group members remem-
bering material separately (Weldon & Bellinger, 1997).
This effect was labeled collaborative inhibition.Ithas
been debated whether this inhibition might be due to so-
cial loafing, i.e., reduced performance motivation of in-
dividuals given the presence of other group members (see
Weldon, Blair, & Huebsch, 2000), or the disruption of
individual retrieval strategies during group remembering
Social Psychology 2009; Vol. 40(3):106–110 © 2009 Hogrefe Publishing
(e.g., Basden et al., 1997). While this line of research has
focused on the quantity of group recall, other studies
have looked at how the quality of group members’ mem-
ories is affected by remembering in a group setting, with
special interest in whether and how group members may
develop false memories for an original input experience.
One way in which group remembering may lead to false
memories is social contagion (for evidence in dyads, see
Roediger et al., 2001), i.e., the spread of a piece of mis-
information about an experience from one or more group
members to the others (e.g., Basden, Basden, Thomas &
Souphasith, 1998; Cuc, Manier, Ozuru, & Hirst, 2006;
Hirst, Manier, & Apetroaia, 1997; Muller & Hirst, in
For researchers interested in influence from social
sources it is important to understand how the perception
of the source moderates its impacts on a recipient, be it
in dyadic or group situations. The study of the role that
the perception of the source plays in such processes is
indeed an interface par excellence between social and
memory psychology. As traditional research on persua-
sive communication in social psychology suggests (e.g.,
Hovland & Weiss, 1951), the impact oftransmitted infor-
mation on a recipient should depend on the perceived
credibility or trustworthiness of a social source. Indeed,
studies have found that the influence of misinformation
on recipients’ memory is reduced when the information
is provided by an apparently low-credibility (vs. high-
credibility) source, both when credibility is manipulated
before (Dodd & Bradshaw, 1980; Smith & Ellsworth,
1987; Underwood & Pezdek, 1998) or after the delivery
of misinformation (Chambers & Zaragoza, 2001; Echter-
hoff, Hirst, & Hussy, 2005; Echterhoff, Groll, & Hirst,
2007; Highhouse & Bottrill,1995). Evidence suggestsan
important precondition of successful resistance against
influence from a misinformationsource in the lattercase,
i.e., when recipients learn about the low credibility of a
source after the encoding of biasing information. Social
contagion or misinformation influence can be reduced to
the extent that recipients can attribute potential event in-
formation correctly to the source at the time of remem-
bering (Echterhoff, Hirst, & Hussy, 2005; Echterhoff et
Two papers in this special issue examine the role of
group members’ characteristics in the influence of joint
remembering in small groups. One important way by
which these papers make a novel contribution to thefield
is the integration of source features into the research on
effects of group memory. Brown, Coman, and Hirst focus
on two characteristics of a group member in shaping oth-
er group members’ memories: the group member’s per-
ceived expertise and thedegree to which she or headopts
the role of a narrator in the group, thus dominating the
conversation about to-be-remembered material. Their
findings show that expertise and narratorship indepen-
dently allow a group member to influence the other mem-
bers’ memory. Peker and Tekcan investigate the role of
familiarity among group members on collaborative inhi-
bition and social contagion, thus addressing both quanti-
tative and qualitative aspects of group remembering. The
standard collaborative inhibition effect is found in joint
recall of both friend and nonfriend groups; however,
groups of nonfriends outperform nominal groups in a
subsequent recognition test, suggesting that groups can
benefit in the long run from initial joint recall. Social con-
tagion is more pronounced in groups of friends, perhaps
because of greater reliance of group members on each
Focusing on traditionally social-psychological phe-
nomena, Vernet, Vala, Amâncio, and Butera examine the
extent to which socially relevant attitudes depend on ex-
plicit source memory. The authors argue that a societal
value (here, women’s rights) is often dissociated from the
source (here, the feminist movement) that oncepromoted
it. Their findings indicate that the rejection of the femi-
nist minority (as well as hostile sexism) can be reduced
by reminding people about the source of that commonly
shared value, i.e., by a reassociation between a political
program and its source. Apparently, the reassociation
with a valued political position can benefit the perception
of the source – but only if the dissociation is blamed on
mere forgetting rather than on outright discrimination.
This approach, thus, reveals the potential significance of
source memory in a broader socio-political context.
All the effects outlined so far are instances of “classical”
social influence such as persuasion or conformity which
have been demonstrated long ago by social psychologists
(e.g., Asch, 1956; Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Sherif, 1935;
for reviews, see Cialdini & Trost, 1998; Wood, 2000). A
plethora of social influence studies in social psychology
has revealed that people’s attitudes, judgments, or behav-
iors may change as a result of other people’s communica-
tion or responses to a situation. For instance, it has been
shown that people’s judgmentsconcerning a variety of ob-
jects, ranging from simple physical stimuli to complex so-
cial issues, can be affected by what other people say about
the object. In classical social influence, the information that
can potentially exert biasing effects on a target individual
emanates from other social agents. Thus, the potentially
biasing information is produced by others in the social en-
vironment of the person who is ultimately influenced.
Analogous to these studies of classical social influence, the
above approaches showed that a person’s memory for a
target event can be shaped by information communicated
by others about the event (for a discussion of the analogy,
see Bless et al., 2001).
Adopting a focus different from that of classical influ-
ence research, researchers have examined how the com-
munication of experiences can affect the speakers’ own
memory for the experience (Adaval & Wyer, 2004; Ech-
terhoff, Higgins & Groll, 2005; Echterhoff, Higgins, Ko-
pietz, & Groll, 2008; Tversky & Marsh, 2000; for re-
views see Chiu, Krauss, & Lau, 1998; Echterhoff, Hig-
G. Echterhoff & W. Hirst: Guest Editorial 107
© 2009 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2009; Vol. 40(3):106–110
gins, & Levine, in press; Marsh, 2007). In this case, the
biasing information is produced by the person who is ul-
timately influenced, not by other social agents. Com-
pared to the influence of speaker on listener, this type of
creating shared memories in conversation has received
less attention by researchers (also see Hirst & Echterhoff,
2008). The idea that speakers’ memory for experiences
can be biased by their own communication about these
experiences is arguably less prominent in people’s intu-
itions or lay theories about memory than is the notion that
speakers may bias others’ (i.e., recipients’ or listeners’)
memory. People may suspect being unduly influenced
when another person provides her or his version of a
jointly experienced event. In contrast, they may not sus-
pect that their own talking about the past may exert un-
Two papers in this special issue by Kopietz, Echter-
hoff, Niemeier, Hellmann, and Memon and by Echterhoff,
Lang, Krämer, and Higgins examine when and how com-
municators’ memory is influenced by audience tuning,
that is, communication tailored to the audience’s perspec-
tive or attitude regarding the topic. To explain the occur-
rence of audience-tuning effects on memory, they draw
on shared reality theory (Echterhoff et al., in press; Har-
din & Higgins, 1996). Partly because of their origin in
early social cognition research (Higgins & Rholes, 1978;
also see Higgins, Rholes, & Jones, 1977), existing studies
of audience-tuning effects have focused on memory and
judgment regarding a target person, based on ambiguous
verbal input material that communicators describe to
their audience. Kopietz and colleagues extend the ap-
proach to eyewitnesses’ retellings of an incident to a co-
witness, employing complex visual input material, that
is, video-filmed behaviors of target persons. In their
study, student participants tune their retelling of a wit-
nessed incident to their audience’s evaluation of the sus-
pects in the incident. It is found that participants’ own
memories and judgments regarding the incident are more
biased toward their audience when they are more (vs.
less) motivated to create a shared view with a particular
audience (a student with a similar vs. dissimilar academic
Returning to audience-tuning effects on memory for a
target person, Echterhoff and colleagues examine, in the
context of personnel assessment in an organization, the
role of audience characteristics. Student communicators
described an employee to either an equal-status audience
(a student temp) or a higher-status audience (a company
board member). Although audience tuning is found in
both conditions, it biases communicators’ memory only
in the equal-status condition. The authors argue that the
equal-status audience, while lacking domain-specific ex-
pertise, is perceived as a more trustworthy partner for cre-
ating a shared reality.
The concluding contribution to the special issue is a
theoretical paper by Blank, who proposes a framework
for an integration of approaches from memory and social
psychology. According to this framework, memory re-
trieval involves two stages: the conversion of accessed
memory information into memory beliefs (validation
stage) and the subsequent generation of memory state-
ments (communication stage). Drawing on a common so-
cial-psychological distinction between different types of
influence, Blank argues that social influence at the first
stage is primarily informational, while social influence at
the second stage is predominantly normative.
Beyond the specific insights into different types of social
influence on memory, this special issue is also intended
to reveal implications of this line of research that reach
beyond the confines of memory phenomena. As the work
on shared reality indicates, only by understanding the
complex dynamics by which communication reshapes
the memories of speaker and listener can psychologists
begin to appreciate how social interactions aid in the in-
tersubjective construction and experience of what is real
and meaningful (see Echterhoff et al., in press). More-
over, as scholars have dug deeper into the influence so-
cial interactions have on memory, they have also begun
to explore how communities can come to remember the
past in similar ways. The new – and growing – interest
in a psychology of collective memory arises in part out
of the awareness that collective memories ground collec-
tive identities. The study of social influences on memory
offers tools for researchers for investigating how the
mechanisms of individual memories can shape some-
thing as socially encrusted as collective memory and
identity (Hirst & Manier, 2008). Given these broader per-
spectives, the present papers could contribute to a larger
effort to understand the role individual memory plays in
fundamentally social phenomena such as the interperson-
al construction of reality, knowledge, and identity.
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