Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Behavior, 13, 585-589.

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Loftus and Palmer conducted two studies to examine the influence of leading questions on one’s memory of an event. In the first study, participants viewed a video of a car crash and then answered questions about the speed at which the cars were traveling. The question, “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?” elicited higher estimates of speed than questions that used collided, bumped, contacted, or hit instead of smashed. Thus the phrasing of the question influenced responses. In the second study, participants who had been asked the question with the smashed verb were also more likely to affirm one week later that they had seen broken glass in the video, even though broken glass had not actually been present in the video. The authors concluded that the leading question had caused reconstruction of one’s memory.

This article is a classic because it was the beginning work of the theory of reconstructive memories. The theory has important implications for understanding the accuracy (or rather inaccuracy) of eyewitness testimony.

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