Changing beliefs about past public events with believable and unbelievable doctored photographs

Robert A. Nash*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Doctored photographs can shape what people believe and remember about prominent public events, perhaps due to their apparent credibility. In three studies, subjects completed surveys about the 2012 London Olympic torch relay (Experiment 1) or the 2011 Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (Experiments 2-3). Some were shown a genuine photo of the event; others saw a doctored photo that depicted protesters and unrest. A third group of subjects saw a doctored photo whose inauthenticity had been made explicit, either by adding a written disclaimer (Experiment 1) or by making the digital manipulation deliberately poor (Experiments 2-3). In all three studies, doctored photos had small effects on a subset of subjects’ beliefs about the events. Of central interest though, comparable effects also emerged when the photos were overtly inauthentic. These findings suggest that cognitive mechanisms other than credibility—such as familiarity misattribution and mental imagery—can rapidly influence beliefs about past events even when the low credibility of a source is overt.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-450
Number of pages12
Early online date17 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Memory on 17/08/17, available online:


  • belief distortion
  • photographs
  • credibility
  • familiarity
  • images


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