Excerpts from Marcia K.
(Revised September 21, 1997)
Johnson, Marcia K. (1991). Reality Monitoring: Evidence from Confabulation in
Organic Brain Disease Patients. In Awareness of Deficit After Brain Injury.
Clinical and Theoretical Issues. Edited by George P. Prigatano and Daniel L.
Schacter. New York: Oxford University Press, 176-197.
"Because humans have a cognitive system that takes in information from a
number of perceptual sources and that can itself internally generate information
as well, one of the mind's most critical cognitive functions is discriminating
the origin of information. We constantly use this ability in considering ongoing
experience (Is what I see now 'out there,' or am I only imagining it?) and the
products of past experience (Is my memory for an event that happened when I was
5 years old a memory for an actual event or an event I imagined as a child?)
"I have suggested we use the term reality testing for the processes by
which people make such distinctions during ongoing experience and the term
reality monitoring for the processes by which people discriminate between
memories derived from perception and those that were reflectively generated via
thought, imagination, dreams, and fantasy" (180).
"Reality monitoring failures occur when people confuse the origin of
information, misattributing something that was reflectively generated to
perception or vice versa. That is, reality is not directly given in perception
or remembering but is an attribution that is the outcome of judgment processes"
Memories originating in perception typically have more perceptual detail,
while memories originating in thought typically have more accessible information
about cognitive operations. "Differences between externally and internally
derived memories in average value along these dimensions or attributes form one
basis for deciding the origin of memory" ( 181). She calls this first type R-1.
"A second type of decison process is based on reasoning"--for instance, you
might have a memory of flying, and realize that this is not possible; or of
having visited Shanghai, when you know you never have (my examples). You may
also assume that "someting that comes to mind quickly is likely to be an
accurate memory of an actual event" (181). The calls this second type R-2.
"Thus, reality monitoring most likely produces errors when perceive and
imagined events are similar along dimensions that normally provide a
discriminative cue (e.g., if the imaginations in question are particularly rich
in perceptual and contextual detail), when reasoning fails, whe the relevant
background knowledge is not retrieved or unknown, or when metamemory assumptions
are inaccurate" (181).
"if perceptual qualities of imagined events were unusually vivid, they would
be more difficult to discriminate from perceived events. It might happen, for
instance, if reflective processes were especially successful in recruiting
perceptual processes during imagination, as is evidently the case with good
"the vividness of a memory may indicate that the event actually happened,"
while an assessment of "its plausibility may indicate that it could not have
"Reality monitoring is a fundamental memory function that anchors us in a
perceived external world, in a felt past life with an autobiographical quality,
and in a network of knowledge and beliefs that we take to be derived from
experience in a veridical way. At the same time, reality monitoring produces in
us a compelling sense of ownership of our own ideas, fantasies, and hopes. It is
only when the boundary between externally derived and internally generated
information becomes blurred, as in the case of confabulation or delusions, that
we can fully appreciate how central this discrimination is to defnining the
characteristics of normal mental experience and to functioning effectively in
Johnson, Marcia K., John Kounios, and John A. Reeder (1994). Time-course
studies of reality monitoring and recognition. Journal of Experimental
Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 20: 1409-1419.
Johnson's model (outlined above) "suggests that people do not remember the
source of a memory per se; rather, they infer the source of a memory…. Instead,
they make inferences or attributionis based on available cues in the form of
various types of memorial information" (1409).
Now, "if reality-monitoring processes are based on heuristics rather than on
direct dectection, they should be systematically error-prone" (1409).
"Memories for imagined events would be expected to include more available
information about the cognitive operations that established them, and memories
for perceived events would be expected to include more perceptual detail"
Johnson, Marcia K.
(1991).Reflection, Reality Monitoring, and the Self. In Mental Imagery.
Ed. Robert G. Kunzendorf. New York: Plenum Press, 3-16.
"A self," Johnson writes, "is a byproduct of reality monitoring processes
that distinguish perceptually-derived from reflectively-generated information."
She argues that the self-as-source forms a locus for the attribution of the
reflectively generated information, while the phenomenology of the
self-as-controller arises in various interactions of the reality monitoring
system, notably between the perceptual and logical levels (13).
For further references, see Reality
Monitoring in CogWeb's Bibliography.
1997 Francis F. Steen,
Communication Studies, University of California, Los Angeles