What Is Source Confusion In Behavioral Science?

What is Source Confusion?

Source confusion, also known as source misattribution or source monitoring error, is a memory distortion phenomenon in which an individual incorrectly recalls the origin of a specific memory, idea, or event. This cognitive error occurs when people mix up details from different sources or attribute a memory to the wrong source. Factors that contribute to source confusion include similarity between sources, time elapsed since the event, emotional state, and cognitive load. Source confusion can have significant implications in various contexts, such as eyewitness testimony, plagiarism, and misinformation spread.

Examples of Source Confusion

  • Eyewitness Testimony

    In a criminal investigation, an eyewitness might mistakenly identify a suspect based on their exposure to the individual in a different context or through media coverage, rather than from witnessing the crime itself.

  • Plagiarism

    A student might unintentionally plagiarize an idea or passage from a source they previously read, mistakenly believing it to be their original thought, due to source confusion.

  • Spread of Misinformation

    People might incorrectly recall and share information from a disreputable source as if it were from a credible one, leading to the spread of misinformation and reinforcing false beliefs.

  • Recalling Conversations

    An individual might attribute a statement or piece of information to the wrong person during a conversation, mistakenly recalling that person as the source of the information when it was actually someone else.

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