Why our memories can be changed by the suggestions of others



, explained.

What is Suggestibility?

Suggestibility is the creation of new, false memories based on information given by others after the fact. Certain factors affect one’s degree of suggestibility. One factor is self-esteem; those with higher self-esteem are less prone to suggestibility. Assertiveness is a trait that functions similarly.


If the information given is plausible, it can fit in with the rest of the memories about a given situation. This behavior is critical to understand in eyewitness testimony; suggestions by a police officer or attorney, whether intentional or unintentional, could potentially alter memories and cause miscarriages of justice. Intense emotions, by worsening critical thinking skills, also make people more suggestable. Finally, children are more suggestable than adults. Children change their schemas of the world much more often than adults, and are therefore more likely to accept new information. This is compounded by the worse critical thinking skills of children as compared to adults.


In a study by Lindsay and Johnson, students were shown a video of a car crash. Students were then divided into groups, and asked questions about the speed of the cars when they either “hit”, “smashed”, “collided”, “bumped”, or “contacted”. Based on the severity of the word, students adjusted their estimation of the speed of the car.