Where did 1850 Happen First - in America or in Europe? A Cognitive Account for an Historical Bias

Avital Moshinsky
Maya Bar-Hillel

Teachers of history note that pupils are often surprised to learn that a certain event in Europe happened at the same time as another in America, since to them the latter appears to have happened more recently. The validity of this anecdotal observation is supported by an experiment. This bias is explained by noting that America is The New World, while Europe is The Old World. Independent verification is offerred for this explanation. It is shown that the accessibility principle (i.e. that better known events appear more recent than less well known ones) neither accounts for the bias nor even operates with our stimuli. An earlier version of this paper, titled The Europe-America Bias:  Where a historical event occurred affects when people think it occurred, was published later, in 2005, in Advances in Psychology Research (S. P. Shohov, ed.), vol. 33, 39-63.  It is fuller, and in the link to DP208 it follows the version published in Psychological Science in 2002.   

December, 1999
Published in: 
Psychological Science 13(1) (2002), 20-25