The Effects of Motivated Remembering on the Recall Accuracy


  • Kutlay Usta Comenius University Bratislava


Relevance theory [1] presents a comprehensive framework for understanding communication, positing that it encompasses more than a simple coding-encoding process. According to this theory, communication involves a complex exchange of information, where speakers encode their messages and hearers employ their cognitive abilities to decode and derive meaning from these messages. In this process, the ability to recall information becomes crucial for hearers to accurately infer the intended meaning of the speaker.

Interestingly, research has indicated that individuals' belief in a just world, defined as the tendency to perceive the world as operating fairly and individuals receiving what they deserve, can significantly influence their memory and recall accuracy [2]. When events or situations contradict this belief, it can lead to cognitive dissonance and emotional distress [3]. Based on this observation, we propose that individuals are more likely to implicitly recall situations that challenge their belief in a just world. This inclination can be attributed to their desire to restore and justify their belief system.

To examine and test this hypothesis, our study will involve recruiting participants through Mechanical Turk and presenting them with structured stories. Each story will consist of an introduction, a dialogue containing promises, and an outcome indicating whether the promises were kept or broken. Following the story presentation, participants will be asked to recall the dialogue lines that include the commitments made in the story. They will also complete the Just World Scale [3], a 20-question Likert scale measuring an individual's endorsement of the belief in a just world, with 10 questions assessing perceptions of justice and 10 questions assessing perceptions of injustice. Subsequently, participants' recalls will be scored using an algorithm we have developed to measure the extent to which they employ implications while recalling. Through this approach, we aim to investigate whether participants are more inclined to implicitly recall commitments when those commitments are broken, potentially due to the violation of their belief in a just world associated with broken promises. Furthermore, we predict that a correlation will be found between participants' scores on the just world scale and their implication scores in stories that include broken promises.


[1] D. Wilson, "Relevance and lexical pragmatics," UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, vol. 16, pp. 343-360, 2004.

[2] S. Sharma, "Remembering a Just World: Motivated Recall of Victim Culpability," The Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology, vol. 63, 2015.

[3] Z. Rubin and L. A. Peplau, "Who believes in a just world?" Journal of social issues, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 65-89, 1976.