Memory for desirable versus undesirable personality characteristics

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Russel A. Jones
Joanne Scott
Cite this article:  Jones, R., & Scott, J. (1981). Memory for desirable versus undesirable personality characteristics. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 9(1), 101-106.


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It was hypothesized that the results of memory searches are biased by an interaction between normative expectations about the relative preponderance of positive vs. negative personality characteristics and the evaluative nature of the question one is attempting to answer with memory-based information. To test the hypothesis, subjects viewed one of three slide sets in each of which equal numbers of desirable and undesirable personality characteristics were attributed to members of one of two groups. Amount of information to be processed was manipulated by the total number of slides to be viewed (48, 32, or 16). Following the slide presentations, half of the subjects in each condition were asked to estimate the number of desirable characteristics that had been attributed to the members of each of the two groups and half were asked to estimate the number of undesirable characteristics. As anticipated, with increasing amounts of information, subjects who were focused on undesirable characteristics in their memory search increasingly overestimated the number of desirable characteristics that had been presented. No such bias was found among subjects who were focused on desirable characteristics in their memory search.
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