In a recent survey of the U.S. population, researchers Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris assessed common beliefs about memory. They found that common beliefs are often incongruent with scientific findings. Recently I had an opportunity to ask Simons about some of the implications of the survey.
What motivated this survey on understanding memory?
Our goal in conducting the study was to supplement the research we had done for our book, The Invisible Gorilla. The book focuses on everyday illusions, cases in which people’s intuitive beliefs about how the mind works are faulty. In writing the book, we realized that nobody had ever conducted a national survey to measure how pervasive those beliefs are. Our PLoS One paper reports the results from a subset of the items in the survey, those most related to memory. We chose our items by drawing from a number of smaller-scale surveys that asked about the same sorts of principles, so we had good reason to suspect that these items would reveal a sizable discrepancy between public beliefs and the established science.