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The effect of knowledge on accuracy and partisanship on distortion of memory of baseball statistics

Abstract

In order to study the effects of expertise, time delay and partisanship on memory distortion, 34 college students watched a baseball game and then recalled statistics from the game directly after and again, one week later.  Two tests were performed.  In the first, subjects were grouped according to their reported expertise and experts were found to be more accurate than novices at recalling statistics.  In the second, subjects who reported partisanship toward one team did not consistently distort toward the their team.  Instead, distortions were mostly toward average numbers for individual statistics.  Distortion in this study seemed to be due to filling in of more generic ideas rather than emotional gratification.

Introduction

Do people tend to distort hard-to recall information in their favor?  The literature so far says yes.  In Bahrick, Hall and Berger’s (1996) study, college students tended to distort memories of their high school grades upward.  This finding is attributed in part to more frequent rehearsals of positive content, but because students who got mostly A’s were much more likely to distort a forgotten grade to an A, some of this correlation may be due to reconstruction based on generic memories.  Their work dealt with the differences between quality-oriented and accuracy-oriented studies of memory, as suggested by Koriat and Goldsmith (1994).  This investigation follows their model of study to some degree.

Another related question must be asked: what is the affect of expertise and time on memory distortion?  Some research (Sanbonmatsu, Sansone & Kardes, 1991) has suggested that only moderate inferences are drawn shortly after initial processing of the information, and that stronger influences were made after an extended period of time.  Expertise also affected inferences, with people more knowledgeable in a subject area less likely to draw inferences about unknowns than novices.  The study, however, dealt with drawing conclusions based on a lack of knowledge rather than attempts at recall.

Recall of a baseball game based upon common statistics is a suitable area for exploring these questions.  Within just three innings, enough data can be collected to produce worthwhile results.  Subjects watching the same game in the same room will have very similar encoding conditions and statistics that have definite positive and negative directions for each team are easily identified.  Extensive statistics are kept on all baseball games, so accuracy is easily verified.  More importantly, a wide range of fans (who tie great value to their teams performance) and non-fans (who have less reason for distortion) for each team are easy to find.  It is believed that the emotional effect of the game will be magnified if a World Series game is used.

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