Definition: The process of memory distortion as the result of deliberate or inadvertent suggestion.

Quite Simply...

  • False, but plausible, information is given and, as a result, a memory is altered.
  • One "fills the gaps" in memory with false information when recalling a scenario or moment.
  • The use of cues to distort recollection.
  • After persistently being told something pertaining to a past event, one's memory of the event conforms to what they've been told.

Examples of Suggestibility

  • You witness an argument after school. When later asked about the "huge fight" that occurred, you recall the memory, but unknowingly distort it with exaggerated fabrications, because you now think of the event as a "huge fight" instead of a simple argument.
  • A witness' testimony is altered because the police or attorneys make suggestions during the interview, which causes their already uncertain observations to become distorted memories.
  • Your parents tell you that you have always been a good singer, so from then on you believe you have talent when really your parents were falsely encouraging you.
  • Mr. Cizek could trick his AP Psych students by saying, "Suggestibility is the distortion of memory through suggestion or misinformation, right?" It's likely that the majority of the class would agree with him because he's a teacher and what he said sounds correct. However, the term is really the misinformation effect.

Additional Resources


Donna Smith

  • When she was 12 years old, Donna Smith began suffering migraines which led to sleep deprivaion and depression. Her therapist, who was a specialist in cases involving child abuse, repeatedly asked her whether her father had sexually abused her. This suggestion caused Donna to fabricate memories of her father molesting her, which led to her being placed in foster care and her father being tried on charges of abuse.


  • Loftus and Palmer performed an experiment in which they took 45 students and had them watch a video of a car accident, which was part of a driver safety video. The students were split into five groups of nine and each group was asked a question. The difference was that, even though each question was basically the same, each group had a different version of the question. The question they were asked was a variation of the question, "How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?" The different version used a different word in the place of "smashed", which were "smashed", "hit", "collided", "bumped", and "contacted". The experimenters hypothesized that each word would cause the students to answer the question with different speeds, based on the variation of the question. It turns out that Loftus and Palmer were correct, and the different variations each had a different average speed that was answered. From slowest to fastest (32-41 mph) the variations are: "contacted", "hit", "bumped", "collided", and "smashed". This is a demonstration of suggestibility since the different wording used for each question suggested to the students how fast the cars were going when they crashed, and altered their memories, leading to them answering differently.

  • Loftus and Ketcham preformed in an experiment to test suggestibility in the memories of college students. They believed that they could get college students to remeber bogus events in their life. So, they visited the families of 50 college students and asked to receive a list of their childhood memories that the student would be able to recall. Then, they added plausible memories to the list such as meeting Bugs Bunny at Disney World or getting lost in the mall. The students were asked to remeber both the real and the bogs events to Loftus and Ketchman. After repeatedly being asked to recall these events, many of the students claimed that they remembered the made up events. When told of the false memories, many of the student were amazed that the memories were false because they could recall them vividly. Loftus and Ketcham showed that memory is malleable and just takes a few suggestions to change it. They also proved that suggestibility can lead to the misinformation effect.

See Also...

  • Misinformation Effect: An application of suggestibliity where misinformation distorts memory.
  • Fabricated Memory: Memory of something which did not happen; often formed due to suggestion.