Memory confusion protocol

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The memory confusion protocol is a technique used by social psychologists to discover whether subjects are categorizing individuals into groups and, if so, what characteristics they are using to do so – without the knowledge of the subjects, in order to reduce the risk that subjects will try to conceal their reasons. The technique has three main steps:

  1. Subjects are shown photographs of the individuals and are asked to form impressions of them.
  2. The subjects then see a set of sentences, each of which is paired with a photograph of the individual who said it.
  3. Subjects are not forewarned of the final step, a surprise recall task: the sentences are presented in random order, and the subjects must attribute each to the correct individual.

The subjects' mistakes in the recall task reveal how they categorize the individuals: the subjects are more likely to misattribute A's statement to B if they grouped A and B as members of the same category than if they considered them members of different categories.[1]


  1. ^ Taylor, S.; Fiske, S.; Etcoff, N. & Ruderman, A. (1978). "Categorical and contextual bases of person memory and stereotyping". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 36 (7): 778–793. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.36.7.778.  A description and example are given at Robert Kurzban; John Tooby & Leda Cosmides (December 18, 2001). "Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization" (PDF). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 98 (26): 15387–15392. doi:10.1073/pnas.251541498. PMC 65039Freely accessible. PMID 11742078. Retrieved 2008-06-11.