Memories people no longer believe in can still affect them in helpful and harmful ways

Ryan Burnell, Robert A. Nash, Sharda Umanath, Maryanne Garry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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. 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 with 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1319-1335
Number of pages17
JournalMemory and Cognition
Early online date14 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022, The Author(s). This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit


  • False memory
  • Memory functions
  • Autobiographical memory


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