Exaggeration in memory: Systematic distortion of self-evaluative information under reduced accessibility

Greg Willard, Richard H. Gramzow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The tendency to exaggerate specific information about oneself can stem from reconstructive memory processes that are distinct from motivated self-enhancement or self-presentation. While exaggerations sometimes reflect these motives, they also result from attempts to reconstruct one's past. Three studies examined test scores as they became less accessible in memory. Study 1 provided a real-world illustration, demonstrating reduced accessibility and increased exaggeration of SAT scores over time. Two experiments utilized test scores randomly assigned in a controlled laboratory setting. Increased exaggeration was observed following distraction (Study 2), and after a one-week delay (Study 3). Distortions in scores reported were consistent with beliefs about the self, rather than uniformly self-serving. Under reduced accessibility, exaggeration was predicted by beliefs about achievement (Study 1) and subjective perceptions of test performance (Study 2). Study 3 manipulated perceived performance. Positive performance feedback caused greater exaggeration under reduced accessibility, whereas negative feedback reduced the tendency to exaggerate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-259
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Reconstructive memory
  • Self-enhancement
  • Self-report bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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