For example, Harry gets a call from a political polling organization and is asked for his opinion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He gives it the lowest possible rating. A few weeks later, Harry meets an attractive woman named Sally online. During their conversation, Sally mentions that she answered the same question by the same polling organization and expressed high approval of Obamacare. She then asks "What approval rating did you give Obamacare when they asked you?"
This question poses a dilemma for Harry. Should he tell the truth or should he shade the truth? To the extent that Harry finds Sally very attractive and is motivated to create a positive impression, he might shade the truth about his past behavior by claiming to have expressed at least moderate approval of Obamacare. What, if any, effect would this misrepresentation have on Harry's memory for how he actually answered on the day he was contacted by the polling organization?
"What we know is that people will embellish or distort facts when telling stories, which causes them to oftentimes remember the lies more so than the truth," Charles Lord, professor of psychology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said.
"Research has also showed us that people tell others what they want to hear. In this case, Harry will lie to impress Sally, and he is also more likely to fool himself into believing the lie," he said.
Researchers asked single individuals if they agreed or disagreed with instituting "comprehensive mandatory exams" for graduating seniors using a 1-10 scale. A total of 44 individuals did not want to institute mandatory exams.
Those respondents were then led to believe they would be meeting a member of the opposite sex who wanted to institute mandatory exams by scoring those a nine on the survey.
They also were shown a photo of this person and asked to report on a 1-7 scale if they found their partner "physically attractive and wanted to get along with and make a good impression on this partner."
Participants were then asked to complete a profile to be sent to their partner before an in-person meeting answering the same question about "comprehensive mandatory exams."
Researchers found there was a correlation between the attractiveness of the partner and those warming to the idea of "comprehensive mandatory exams."
Researchers then retested students with some of the same questions they had taken two weeks earlier by asking respondents to remember what they had said in the initial survey.
"Participants with relatively attractive potential partners remembered giving more positive initial survey responses than participants with relatively unattractive potential partners," Lord said.
The findings are set to be published in the Journal of Social Cognition.