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Ageing and the Moses Illusion: Older adults fall for Moses but if asked directly, stick with Noah

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Many people respond “two” to the question “How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the ark?”, even though they know the reference should be to Noah. The Moses Illusion demonstrates a failure to apply stored knowledge (Erickson & Mattson, 1981). Of interest was whether older adults' robust knowledge bases would protect them from vulnerability to this illusion. Of secondary interest were any age differences in the memorial consequences of the illusion, and whether older adults' prior knowledge would protect them from later reproducing information from distorted questions (e.g., later saying that Moses took two animals of each kind on the ark). Surprisingly, older adults fell for the Moses Illusion more often than did younger adults. However, falling for the illusion did not affect older adults' later memory; they were less suggestible than young adults. Most importantly, older adults were more likely to recover from exposure to distorted questions and respond correctly. Explanations of these findings, drawing on theories of cognitive ageing, are discussed.
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Keywords: Ageing; False memory; Knowledge

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA 2: Department of Psychology, Drew University, Madison, NJ, USA

Publication date: July 4, 2014

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