Bartlett proposed the reconstructive explanation of memory and suggested memory was not simply a recording device but instead memories were “reconstructed” and interpreted to fit in with the hopes, fears, emotions and previous experiences of individuals. He believed people looked at memories and past events and strived to make them more logical and meaningful. This was done by the people making inferences and deductions and what should have happened. Therefore memories were not just registered exactly but constructed and reconstructed to fit in with their individuals own expectations and understanding.

Bartlett (1932) The War Of The Ghosts

Bartlett (1932) tested the reconstructive explanation for memory through his study “The war of the ghosts”. He wanted to see if memory could be altered by the individual’s previous experiences influencing their recall of events. To do this Bartlett played a game of “Chinese whispers” and asked students to pass on a story they are told to the next student. The story they were told was a Native American story which was culturally very different to what western students would be use to. It involved Native Americans travelling in canoes and fighting another group which turned out to be ghosts.

Results found that the war of the ghosts story had dramatically changed by the time it reached the final student. Students were found to have altered the story so it fit into their own experiences and culture. For example instead of canoes, students recalled the mode of transport being cars and weapons as guns instead of bow and arrows.

Bartlett concluded that memory was not accurate recordings of events but constructed and reconstructed to fit in with the individual’s own experiences. He believed individuals needed to impose meaning on something they did not understand and based this on their own understanding, experiences, hopes and fears.

War of the ghosts study – Key findings:

• Details such as ghosts were omitted.
• The story was recalled more logically and shaped to fit together better than the original.
• Details were changed to more familiar concepts to the person; for example canoes were changed to cars, bows and arrows changed to guns.
• The ordering of the story was also changed.

Evaluating Reconstructive Memory And Bartlett’s War Of The Ghosts Story


  • Results appear to support the reconstructive explanations of memory which suggests memory is altered to fit in with individuals rather than a recording of events.
  • The model also explains everyday aspects of our memory and why we may have “failures” and why we do not accurately recall everything as they occur. For example this study helps us understand why people may remember events incorrectly as it may be down to errors in reconstruction rather than wilful attempts to mislead or malfunctions in processing.


  • The study and findings may lack validity as students may have consciously change the story or intentionally change it due to demand characteristics and wanting to make the story more entertaining. The story may have simply been misheard as it was being told to them suggesting this may not be sufficient enough evidence for the reconstructive memory having validity as an explanation.
  • The reconstructive memory model makes predicting behaviour difficult and a good explanation for memory should make prediction possible for it to have credibility. The reconstructive model of memory does not predict how experiences or emotions can affect memories but simply gives principles of how reconstruction may work.

How to reference/cite this information:

Reconstructive Memory –

Outline one feature of the reconstructive memory model (1 mark)
Give one example of how participants in Bartlett’s study changed their story consistently? (1 mark)
Outline one weakness or criticism of Bartlett’s theory of reconstructive memory (2 marks)

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