We also examined children’s false memory propensity for a negative (i.e., copying someone’s homework) or neutral event (i.e., moving to another classroom) (Otgaar, Candel, & Merckelbach, 2008). Interestingly, based on previous work, two contrasting hypotheses exist. One line of evidence suggested that emotionally negative material was more likely to be contaminated by false memories than neutral or positive material (Porter, Spence, & Birt, 2003).The idea underlying this was that emotionally negative material contained more networks of interrelated nodes and information than other types of material (Talmi & Moscovitch, 2004). The consequence of such dense and well-integrated networks is that information spreads extremely fast. This heightens the probability that related but not-experienced information is activated (Howe et al., 2009; Otgaar, et al., 2014). Such incorrect associations might lead to false memories. Another stream of empirical work indicated, however, that people are less likely to err when it comes to negatively laden information (e.g., Goodman, Quas, & Ogle, 2010). According to these studies, children make fewer errors when being confronted with negative suggestions that might make them feel embarrassed or that revolve around a taboo (e.g., abuse).

In our false memory implantation study, 7-year-old children received false narratives that they copied their neighbour’s homework or had to move to another classroom. We made sure that the events were comparable in terms of plausibility and script knowledge. At both interviews, our results showed that children were more likely to falsely recollect the negative than the neutral event. Since then, studies using suggestion-based false memory paradigms or other paradigms have found comparable results in children as well in adults (e.g., Howe, Candel, Otgaar, Malone, & Wimmer, 2010; Porter et al., 2014). When emotionally negative information is presented containing dense networks of nodes, false memories seem more likely to be engendered for negative than neutral material.The legal implications of such findings are serious. Legal cases are typically about negative occasions, and this work shows that, when suggestion is provided about negative experiences, children and adults are more likely to create false memories.

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