People can come to “remember” experiences they never had, and these false memories—much like memories for real experiences—can serve a variety of helpful and harmful functions. Sometimes, though, people realize one of their memories is false, and retract their belief in it. These “retracted memories” continue to have many of the same phenomenological characteristics as their believed memories (e.g., Mazzoni et al., 2010). But can they also continue to serve functions? Across four experiments, we asked subjects to rate the extent to which their retracted memories serve helpful and harmful functions, and compared these functions to those served by “genuine” autobiographical memories. People rated their retracted memories as serving both helpful and harmful functions, much like their genuine memories. In addition, we found only weak relationships between people’s belief in their memories and the extent to which those memories served perceived functions. These results suggest memories can serve functions even in the absence of belief, and highlight the potential for false memories to affect people’s thinking and behavior even after people have retracted them.
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- False memory
- Memory functions
- Autobiographical memory