What is Source Confusion?

Source confusion, also known as unconscious transference, occurs when someone does not remember where certain memories or beliefs originate. The consequence of this phenomenon is that if someone describes an event, or asks you to imagine an event, it is possible to later believe that the event occurred. This is one way that false memories can be created.

Why does it matter?

Source confusion important applications in witness testimony — did you the robber have red hair or do you remember the police officer telling you he did?. Source confusion can be especially strong with childhood memories. This creates problems in combination with the existence of repressed memories; is a recovered memory of child abuse a repressed memory or the result of source confusion?

Other applications

Source confusion also applies to how we construct our understanding of the world. disassociate the content of our knowledge from the source, so we are similarly confident in all content despite not being similarly confident in all sources. For example, while I trust the Washington Post more than a Facebook meme, the information I have gleaned from each is given similar validity later on.


A woman named Nadean Cool went to therapy, and with the use of hypnosis and other techniques, realized that she had repressed childhood memories of being in a satanic cult, being raped, as well as a variety of other horrible experiences. These memories were false, and had been planted by her psychologist. However, due to source confusion, Cool was unable to distinguish these suggestions from memories.

Further Reading

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