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“Thou Shalt Not Judge?”: Negative Judgements Can Distort Memory

Can negative judgments we make about other people distort our memory of them? Yes, says a study conducted by Cornell University.

For example, labeling a person as devious or dishonest can distort our memory so much, that when we later attempt to recall that person’s behavior it seems to be worse than it actually was—in our memory that is.

Assistant professor of psychology David Pizarro found that his test subjects who read about a man who walked out on a restaurant bill remembered the bill as much higher when they were told the man was a jerk who likes to steal. Conversely, when other study participants were told the man left because of an emergency, they remembered a significantly lower bill. The conclusion? Morally blaming a person based on perception can distort memory for the severity of a crime.

Previous studies have also found that leading questions or comments, for instance, can influence the memory of an incident, and that thinking that someone is good, or bad in one area, also tends to influence judgments about them in other areas as well.

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