When stereotypes backfire: trying to suppress stereotypes produces false recollections of a crime

M.J.V. Peters*, M. Jelicic, H.L.G.J. Merckelbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose. This study examined whether participants' memories of a racially neutral crime story are influenced by stereotypes and the instruction to suppress stereotypes while reading the crime story. We expected that participants who saw a photograph of a foreign group (negative stereotype prime) and were given the instruction to suppress stereotypes before reading a crime story would make significantly more stereotype-consistent errors on a recognition test than participants who received a neutral prime and a suppression instruction. Methods. Participants were 88 undergraduate students (59 women) who were randomly allocated to the cells of a 2 (negative stereotype versus neutral prime) X 2 (thought suppression versus control) between-subjects design. The dependent variables were recognition of accurate items, stereotype-consistent items and confabulation items. Results. The critical stereotype X suppression interaction was statistically significant for false recognition of non-presented stereotype-consistent items. Simple effect analyses of the suppression condition showed that participants who were primed with a negative stereotype made more stereotype-consistent recognition errors than those who had been exposed to a neutral prime. Conclusions. Stereotypes not only make cognitive processing easier, but might also contribute to recognition errors when people do what they often are told to do in the legal arena: suppress stereotypical thinking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-336
JournalLegal and Criminological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006


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