Previous research has demonstrated that people recall their past in ways that exaggerate its consistency with their current condition. It is argued that whether people perceive stability or change in themselves depends, in part, on the theory they invoke to reconstruct their past. Two studies, with 106 undergraduates, addressed the impact of a potentially invalid theory of change on the recall of personal histories. Some Ss participated in a study-skills improvement program that promised more than it delivered. Ss initially evaluated their study skills and then were randomly assigned either to a waiting list control condition or to the study skills program. Three weeks later, all Ss were asked to recall as accurately as possible their initial skills evaluation. Program participants recalled their evaluations as being worse than they had actually reported; waiting list Ss exhibited no systematic bias in recall. Program participants also reported greater improvement in study skills and expected better final exam grades than did waiting list Ss. Actual grades did not differ in either study. Nonetheless, 6 mo later program participants overestimated their academic performance for the term during which the program was conducted. Results support the hypothesis that people can claim support for invalid theories of change by reconstructing their pasts.
Conway, M., & Ross, M. (1984). Getting what you want by revising what you had. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(4), 738-748.