Prior research has demonstrated that Americans massively overestimate how much their home state has contributed to US history. Why does such collective overclaiming occur? We argue that although self-serving biases undoubtedly influence overclaiming, non-motivated factors, such as a failure to consider the contributions of other states, also play a large role in overclaiming effects. In the current studies, subjects read descriptions of territories within a fictitious country and evaluated how much a territory within that country contributed to its history. Experiment 1 showed that overclaiming of responsibility increased as more territories were added to the country. Experiments 2 and 3 showed that requiring subjects to explicitly consider all territories reduced estimations of responsibility. Experiment 4 showed that people provided higher ratings of responsibility when more details were provided about the territory. Finally, Experiment 5 showed that retrieval fluency did not affect overclaiming. We conclude that support theory – based on the availability of content – provides a strong explanation for why the collective overclaiming of responsibility occurs, with both theoretical and practical implications.
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We justified the use of one-tailed tests as follows. First, while using one-tailed tests increases the chance of finding an effect in a certain direction, it also prevents the possibility of finding significant effects in the opposite direction. Second, in light of preregistration, the use of one-tailed tests can be clearly shown to be a priori due to our theoretical predictions. We also ran all analyses with two-tailed tests and found that all but one significant finding (in E2B) remained significant.
The results did not change if we included all subjects.
When the ratings for Adivigan were analyzed with a two-tailed test, p = .084; note that the two-tailed non-parametric test was still statistically significant.
Our preregistration specified two levels of detail about Adivigan: content and minimal content. After collecting pilot data, we added an additional condition that was in between the other two. We renamed the previous content condition as “detailed content” and called this new condition the “content” condition.
An alternative interpretation is that subjects may use the representativeness heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973) and simply judge a longer description to indicate a more important territory. Although this would explain why the “minimal content” condition yielded the smallest claims of responsibility, it would fail to explain the difference between the “content” and “detailed content” conditions, which were the same length.
A second version of this experiment is reported in our SOM. Briefly, we also found a null effect, but did not report the study in the main manuscript because we excluded more data than expected.
An example of an unreasonable response would be leaving the response field blank, or reporting something completely unrelated to the task (e.g., writing “nice” as their entire response).
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We thank Magdalena Abel, Jeremy Yamashiro, and Kurt DeSoto for helpful comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by Carleton College and Furman University.
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Ross, M.Q., Sterling-Maisel, O.A., Tracy, O. et al. Overclaiming responsibility in fictitious countries: Unpacking the role of availability in support theory predictions of overclaiming. Mem Cogn (2020). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-020-01059-9
- Collective memory
- Support theory