List of memory biases  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In psychology and cognitive science, a memory bias is a cognitive bias that either enhances or impairs the recall of a memory (either the chances that the memory will be recalled at all, or the amount of time it takes for it to be recalled, or both), or that alters the content of a reported memory. There are many types of memory bias, including:

  • Choice-supportive bias: remembering chosen options as having been better than rejected options (Mather, Shafir & Johnson, 2000).
  • Change bias: after an investment of effort in producing change, remembering one's past performance as more different than it actually was (Schacter, 1999).
  • Childhood amnesia: the retention of few memories from before the age of two years.
  • Consistency bias: incorrectly remembering one's past attitudes and behaviour as resembling present attitudes and behaviour.
  • Context effect: that cognition and memory are dependent on context, such that out-of-context memories are more difficult to retrieve than in-context memories (e.g., recall time and accuracy for a work-related memory will be lower at home, and vice versa).
  • Cryptomnesia: a form of misattribution where a memory is mistaken for imagination, because there is no subjective experience of it being a memory.
  • Egocentric bias: recalling the past in a self-serving manner, e.g. remembering one's exam grades as being better than they were, or remembering a caught fish as being bigger than it really was.
  • Hindsight bias: the inclination to see past events as being predictable; also called the "I-knew-it-all-along" effect.
  • Humor effect: that humorous items are more easily remembered than non-humorous ones, which might be explained by the distinctiveness of humor, the increased cognitive processing time to understand the humor, or the emotional arousal caused by the humor.
  • Generation effect: that self-generated information is remembered best.
  • Lag effect
  • Leveling and Sharpening: memory distortions introduced by the loss of details in a recollection over time, often concurrent with sharpening or selective recollection of certain details that take on exaggerated significance in relation to the details or aspects of the experience lost through leveling. Both biases may be reinforced over time, and by repeated recollection or re-telling of a memory. (e.g., Koriat,­ Goldsmith and ­Pansky, 2000).
  • Levels-of-processing effect: that different methods of encoding information into memory have different levels of effectiveness (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).
  • List-length effect
  • Misinformation effect: that misinformation affects people's reports of their own memory.
  • Misattribution: when information is retained in memory but the source of the memory is forgotten. One of Schacter's (1999) Seven Sins of Memory, Misattribution was divided into Source Confusion, Cryptomnesia and False Recall/False Recognition.
  • Modality effect: that memory recall is higher for the last items of a list when the list items were received via speech than when they were received via writing.
  • Mood congruent memory bias: the improved recall of information congruent with one's current mood.
  • Next-in-line effect
  • Part-list cueing effect: that being shown some items from a list makes it harder to retrieve the other items (e.g., Slamecka, 1968).
  • Persistence: the unwanted recurrence of memories of a traumatic event.
  • Picture superiority effect: that concepts are much more likely to be remembered experientially if they are presented in picture form than if they are presented in word form.
  • Positivity effect: that older adults favor positive over negative information in their memories.
  • Processing difficulty effect
  • Primacy effect: that the first items on a list show an advantage in memory.
  • Recency effect: that the last items on a list show an advantage in memory.
  • Reminiscence bump: the recalling of more personal events from adolescence and early adulthood than personal events from other lifetime periods (Rubin, Wetzler & Nebes, 1986; Rubin, Rahhal & Poon, 1998).
  • Rosy retrospection: the remembering of the past as having been better than it really was.
  • Serial position effect: that items near the end of a list are the easiest to recall, followed by the items at the beginning of a list; items in the middle are the least likely to be remembered.
  • Self-generation effect: that people are better able to recall memories of statements that they have generated than similar statements generated by others.
  • Self-relevance effect: that memories relating to the self are better recalled than similar information relating to others.
  • Source Confusion: misattributing the source of a memory, e.g. misremembering that one saw an event personally when actually it was seen on television.
  • Spacing effect: that information is better recalled if exposure to it is repeated over a longer span of time.
  • Stereotypical bias: memory distorted towards stereotypes (e.g. racial or gender), e.g. "black-sounding" names being misremembered as names of criminals (Schacter, 1999).
  • Suffix effect: the weakening of the recency effect in the case that an item is appended to the list that the subject is not required to recall (Morton, Crowder & Prussin, 1971).
  • Suggestibility: a form of misattribution where ideas suggested by a questioner are mistaken for memory.
  • Telescoping effect: the tendency to displace recent events backward in time and remote events forward in time, so that recent events appear to be more remote, and remote events, more recent.
  • Testing effect: that frequent testing of material that has been committed to memory improves memory recall.
  • Tip of the tongue phenomenon: when a subject is able to recall parts of an item, or related information, but is frustratingly unable to recall the whole item. This is thought to be an instance of "blocking" where multiple similar memories are being recalled and interfere with each other (Schacter, 1999).
  • Verbatim effect: that the "gist" of what someone has said is better remembered than the verbatim wording (Poppenk, Walia, Joanisse, Danckert, & Köhler, 2006).
  • Von Restorff effect: that an item that sticks out is more likely to be remembered than other items (von Restorff, 1933).
  • Zeigarnik effect: that uncompleted or interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones.


  • Greenwald, A. (1980). "The Totalitarian Ego: Fabrication and Revision of Personal History" American Psychologist, Vol. 35, No. 7.
  • Koriat,A., ­ Goldsmith, M., and ­ Pansky, A. (2000). "Toward a Psychology of Memory Accuracy" Annual Review of Psychology. Vol. 51: 481-537.
  • Schacter, D. L. (1999). "The Seven Sins of Memory: Insights From Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience" American Psychologist Vol. 54. No. 3, 182-203.
  • Schacter, D. L., J. Y. Chiao, J. P. Mitchell. (2003). "The Seven Sins of Memory. Implications for Self" Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1001 (1), 226–239.

See also

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