People with attachment anxiety more likely to create false memories when they can see the person talking

Adults who frequently worry about being rejected or abandoned by those closest to them are more prone to having false memories when they can see who is conveying the information, a new study suggests.

The authors, SMU’s Nathan Hudson and Michigan State University’s William J. Chopik, found that adults with attachment anxiety tend to remember details incorrectly more often than people with other personality types, like neuroticism or attachment avoidance.

However, attachment-anxious adults were more likely to get the facts wrong only when they could see the person relaying the information — not when they read or heard the same information, reveals a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Some participants in the study were randomly assigned to watch a 20-minute video of a woman either talking about her tumultuous breakup with a man or another topic — like a shopping trip or the ecology of California wetlands. Other participants got the same information from audio only or by reading a transcript. All groups took a memory test immediately after receiving the information, regardless of how it was delivered.

Hudson, a psychology professor at SMU (Southern Methodist University), said seeing the speaker might be a factor in memory distortion because highly attachment-anxious people tend to be hypervigilant in monitoring facial expressions. They also tend to misjudge the perceived emotional states of others, he said.

“We believe that highly attachment-anxious individuals are likely intensively analyzing what is being said in the videos we showed them,” Hudson said. “Their own thoughts and feelings about the video may have gotten ‘mixed up’ with the actual video contents in their minds. Thus, they experienced false memories when we gave them a test regarding the video’s contents.”

These findings, Hudson said, illustrate how our personalities can potentially affect our memory abilities.

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