After hundreds of articles on recovered memory therapy, one might have thought there was not much left to say. But a November 1997 front-page article in the New York Times headlined '"Memory' Therapy Leads to a Lawsuit and Big Settlement" suggested that the repressed memory controversy had broken new records (Belluck 1997).
Repression is one of the most haunting concepts in psychology. Something shocking happens, and the mind pushes it into some inaccessible corner of the unconscious. Later, the memory may emerge into consciousness. Repression is one of the foundation stones on which the structure of psychoanalysis rests. Recently there has been a rise in reported memories of childhood sexual abuse that were allegedly repressed for many years. With recent changes in legislation, people with recently unearthed memories are suing alleged perpetrators for (...) events that happened 20, 30, even 40 or more years earlier. These new developments give rise to a number of questions: (a) How common is it for memories of child abuse to be repressed? (b) How are jurors and judges likely to react to these repressed memory claims? (c) When the memories surface, what are they like? and (d) How authentic are the memories? (shrink)
Case histories make contributions to science and practice, but they can also be highly misleading. We illustrate with our reexamination of the case of Jane Doe; she was videotaped twice, once when she was six years old and then eleven years later when she was seventeen. During the first interview she reported sexual abuse by her mother. During the second interview she apparently forgot and then remembered the sexual abuse. Jane's case has been hailed by some as the new proof (...) of recovery of repressed or dissociated traumatic memories, and even as proof of the reliability of recovered memories of repeated abuse. Numerous pieces of "supporting evidence" were given in the original article for believing that the abuse occurred. Upon closer scrutiny, however, there are reasons to doubt not only the "supporting evidence," but also that the sexual abuse ever happened in the first place. Our analysis raises several general questions about the use of case histories in science, medicine, and mental health. There is a cautionary tale not only for those professionals who advance the case history, but also for those who base their theories on it or would readily accept it as proof. (shrink)
Three experiments investigated the malleability of perceived plausibility and the subjective likelihood of occurrence of plausible and implausible events among participants who had no recollection of experiencing them. In Experiment 1, a plausibility-enhancing manipulation (reading accounts of the occurrence of events) combined with a personalized suggestion increased the perceived plausibility of the implausible event, as well as participants' ratings of the likelihood that they had experienced it. Plausibility and likelihood ratings were uncorrelated. Subsequent studies showed that the plausibility manipulation alone (...) was sufficient to increase likelihood ratings but only if the accounts that participants read were set in a contemporary context. These data suggest that false autobiographical beliefs can be induced in clinical and forensic contexts even for initially implausible events. (shrink)
Counterfactual imaginings are known to have far reaching implications. In the present experiment, we ask if imagining events from one's past can affect memory for childhood events. We draw on the social psychology literature showing that imagining a future event increases the subjective likelihood that the event will occur. The concepts of cognitive availability and the source monitoring framework provide reasons to expect that imagination may inflate confidence that a childhood event occurred. However, people routinely produce myriad counterfactual imaginings (i.e., (...) daydreams and fantasies) but usually do not confuse them with past experiences. To determine the effects of imagining a childhood event, we pretested subjects on how confident they were that a number of childhood events had happened, asked them to imagine some of those events, and then gathered new confidence measures. For each of the target items, imagination inflated confidence that the event had occurred in childhood. We discuss implications for situations in which imagination is used as an aid in searching for presumably lost memories. (shrink)
The forgetting and remembering phenomena that Erdelyi outlines here have little to do with the concept of repression. None of the research that he describes shows that it is possible for people to repress (and then recover) memories for entire, significant, and potentially emotion-laden events. In the absence of scientific evidence, we continue to challenge the validity of the concept of repression.
Marketers use autobiographical advertising as a means to create nostalgia for their products. This research explores whether such referencing can cause people to believe that they had experiences as children that are mentioned in the ads. In Experiment 1, participants viewed an ad for Disney that suggested that they shook hands with Mickey Mouse as a child. Relative to controls, the ad increased their conﬁdence that they personally had shaken hands with Mickey as a child at a Disney resort. The (...) increased conﬁdence could be due to a revival of a true memory or the creation of a new, false one. In Experiment 2, participants viewed an ad for Disney that suggested that they shook hands with an impossible character (e.g., Bugs Bunny). Again, relative to controls, the ad increased conﬁdence that they personally had shaken hands with the impossible character as a child at a Disney resort. The increased conﬁdence is consistent with the notion that autobiographical referencing can lead to the creation of false or distorted memory. ᭧ 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (shrink)