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The Moses, Mega-Moses, and Armstrong Illusions: Integrating Language Comprehension and Semantic Memory

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This study develops a new theory of the Moses illusion, observed in responses to general knowledge questions such as, ‘How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?’ People often respond ‘two’ rather than ‘zero’ despite knowing that Noah, not Moses, launched the Ark. Our theory predicted two additional types of conceptual error demonstrated here: the Armstrong and mega-Moses illusions. The Armstrong illusion involved questions resembling, ‘What was the famous line uttered by Louis Armstrong when he first set foot on the moon?’ People usually comprehend such questions as valid, despite knowing that Louis Armstrong was a jazz musician who never visited the moon. This Armstrong illusion was not due to misperceiving the critical words (Louis Armstrong), and occurred as frequently as the Moses illusion (with critical words embedded in identical sentential contexts), but less frequently than the mega-Moses illusion caused when Moses and Armstrong factors were combined.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: September 1, 2000


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