False memories for dissonance inducing events.
Memories serve as a “database” of the self and people often produce distorted memories that support their self-concepts. One, surprisingly untested, possibility is that cognitive dissonance may be one mechanism by which people may misremember their past. We tested this hypothesis using an induced-compliance paradigm: participants either chose or were forced to write a counterattitudinal essay supporting a tuition increase and were afforded the opportunity to reduce dissonance via attitude shift or denial of responsibility. They then reported their memories for the experimental instructions and their initial attitudes (assessed two days prior to the laboratory session). Participants who chose to write the essay exhibited the predicted attitude-shift effect, and were more likely to misremember their initial attitudes and the experimental instruction than those who were forced to write the essay. Overall, our results provide evidence that cognitive dissonance may yield memory distortion, filling a significant gap in the motivated cognition and memory literatures.