Recall vs. Judgment: Open-Closed Question Differences in Studying Collective Memory

Download data and study materials from OSF

This experiment was fielded as part of a TESS telephone survey. Data and materials for all the studies included on this survey is available here.

Principal investigator:

Howard Schuman

University of Michigan



Sample size: 1208

Field period: 10/2003-11/2003


My TESS experiment investigated whether an important difference and an important similarity between open and closed question could be replicated using partly different content. At a theoretical level, the experiment explored the distinction between recall and judgement when individuals are asked to mention important past national and world events. In the open question their task is to recall any event they think of as especially important. In the closed question they are presented with a list of events and are asked to judge which one is especially important.


See abstract

Experimental Manipulations

Open vs. closed questions


Responses regarding important past historical events.

Summary of Results

Open and closed questions, and therefore recall and judgment perform similarly but not identically in this experiment. For the most part, once events are within respondents' frames of reference, recall and judgment of an event's importance lead to parallel results. When we consider the relation of event responses to the critical years hypothesis, there are not radical differences between the two question forms and between recall and judgment. But where there are differences, the open question captures the process somewhat better. This is likely because the impact of an event influences the existence of a memory more than the judgement of its importance once it is remembered. The main exception to this conclusion involves an event (the development of the computer) that many respondents did not recognize as occurring during the time frame provided. The second exception is the Kennedy assassination, a simple and dramatic event but one that is remote in time, which needs to be noted explicitly for those with less education to consider it.


See summary of findings