Anger elicits a robust physiological response that includes increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, but it can also affect attention and memory formation. Anger generally makes people more confident in the accuracy of their memories. Findings from a new study suggest that anger makes people more open to misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Exposure to misinformation can distort memory of past events, a phenomenon known as misinformation effect.
The two-part study involved 79 adults . In the first part of the study, participants watched a short excerpt of a movie. Then they participated in a scripted interview during which they experienced either a neutral exposure or an anger-inducing exposure. Afterward, they completed a test that included misinformation in the questions.
In the second part, half of the participants were asked to write about a time they visited a museum (a neutral exposure), while the other half were asked to write about an event that made them angry (an anger exposure). Then they took a test to assess how much they could accurately recall about the movie and how much misinformation they had absorbed.
The tests revealed that anger did not impair the participants’ ability to recognize details that actually appeared in the movie. But the participants who experienced the anger exposure were more vulnerable to misinformation than those who experienced the neutral exposure.
The participants who experienced the anger exposure were more likely to be very confident in the accuracy of their memories. However, the more confident they were, the less accurate their memories.
These findings suggest that anger influences memory encoding via increased susceptibility to misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Raymond Rupert patient advocate, former family doctor, founder of RCM Health Consultancy.