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Gaslighting, Manipulation, Memorial belief, Memory, Memory challenges, Psychopathy


L. Buchanan


D. Jackson




Psychopaths are known to wreak havoc in the lives, careers, and relationships of people with whom they come into contact, triggering impacts that can extend for many years. To date, few studies have investigated the psychological tactics used by psychopaths to manipulate and control others in relationships. Previous research in the area of autobiographical memory has demonstrated that the decisions people make regarding belief in their memory for life events are influenced by feedback received from others. Social feedback has been shown to be a powerful influence in persuading others to revise beliefs about past events, particularly in the context of close relationships. The two studies described herein applied what is known about social remembering to examine how individuals evaluate intrapersonal (i.e., cognitive) and interpersonal (i.e., social) influences when deciding what to believe about their memory following the receipt of disconfirmatory social feedback, termed memory challenge, within the context of a dyadic relationship. The social-cognitive (SCO) dissonance model of decision-making about memory (Scoboria & Henkel, 2020) outlines interpersonal and intrapersonal influences of rememberers' decisions to: (a) maintain or reduce belief in memory, and (b) agree or disagree with the challenger. Two samples of rememberers provided descriptions of a memory challenge and ratings of characteristics of their relationship, their memory, the challenge, their personality, and the personality of the challenger. Rememberers’ ratings were used to compute composite scores representing the four main elements of the SCO model (Scoboria & Henkel, 2020): evaluation of memory, evaluation of feedback, reasons to agree, and reasons to disagree; and to identify statistical predictors of belief reduction and agreement with the challenger. Of the rememberers recruited froman undergraduate student psychology pool and Amazon Mechanical Turk (N = 259), 60% reported reducing belief in their memory and 29% reported agreeing with the challenger. In contrast, of the rememberers who self-identified as victims of suspected psychopaths (N = 86, Study 2), only 33% reported reducing belief in their memory and 10% reported agreeing with the challenger. Unexpectedly, psychopathy scores did not differ between outcome groups within the sample of self-identified victims. However, psychopathy scores differed between samples, as did the status of the relationship between rememberer and challenger, suggesting that different elements of the SCO model (Scoboria & Henkel, 2020) may influence decisions about memory depending on the relationship. Finally, regression analyses in both studies revealed overlap in the statistical predictors of rememberers’ decisions to reduce belief and to agree with the challenger suggesting that, although conceptually distinct, the interpersonal (social) and intrapersonal (cognitive) influences overlap in practice. The findings of both studies add to what is known about the social and cognitive influences of decision making about memory in response to social feedback. Additionally, these studies mark some of the first examinations of memory challenges as potential manipulation tactics used to influence the memories of others.