What is the Problem with Recovered Memories and False Memories?
The Seduction Theory
The idea of repression started with Sigmund Freud in his seduction theory. According to the theory, memories of childhood sexual abuse_are often repressed, or hidden in consciousness, because they are traumatizing, threatening, and anxiety provoking. These repressed memories often come out and manifest as psychological disorders - depression, suicidal tendencies, eating disorders, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, and interpersonal problems. Treatment for such psychological disorders entails helping patients recover these repressed memories and deal with them.
Initially, Freud strongly believed on his seduction theory, but he later on rejected it, saying that inappropriate childhood sexual desires (and not childhood sexual abuse) are repressed and then manifested as memories of childhood sexual abuse.
How to Recover Repressed Memories
Sigmund Freud's rejection of his seduction theory has been strongly criticized by some psychodynamic psychologists, both old and new. His critics dismiss that he was simply fearful of the implications of his theory. Therapists today utilize a number of ways to help victims recover repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, among them are the following:
- Hypnotic Age Regression. Using hypnosis, victims are instructed to return to a certain period in their childhood, possibly during or near the abuse, and report what they "see" or remember.
- Guided Imagery. Victims are visually led to the scenario when the abuse happened, and then asked for the details.
- Journals. Victims are instructed to record in a journal some fragments of their childhood memories.
- Administration of Truth Drugs. Victims are given drugs that induce remembering.
Upon recovery, therapists often encourage and help the victims to confront their perpetrators, leading to lawsuits.
The Conviction of George Franklin
George Franklin, a California man, spent six years in prison for the 1969 murder of a young woman. He was the first person legally convicted primarily based on recovered memories - from his own daughter's recollection while undergoing therapy. Although he was prosecuted, the decision of the court was overturned when it was discovered that his daughter possibly lied that she underwent hypnosis before the trial.
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation
Since the prosecution of George Franklin, other lawsuits took advantage of recovered repressed memories as evidences, and many victims of childhood sexual abuse_came out in the open. As a result, families were broken, and parents began to be concerned about the future of their families.
The False Memory Syndrome (FMS) Foundation was formed in 1992 by concerned parents who believe that therapies aimed solely for recovering supposedly repressed memories from "victims" threaten the stability of families. They claim that therapists implant false memories to their children, and advocate that courts should not rely on those as evidences.
Priming and False Memories
One important finding in memory research that relates to false memories comes from Elizabeth Loftus's (2002, 2003) demonstration on how priming can lead to the development of false memories. Participants who went for a trip in Disneyland_were given advertisements and then instructed to answer a questionnaire. They were separated into four groups: Group 1 was given an ad with no cartoon character; group 2 was given an ad with no cartoon character, but was shown a 4-feet tall cardboard of Bugs Bunny nearby; group 3 was given an ad with Bugs Bunny as the cartoon character; and group 4 was given an ad with Bugs Bunny as the cartoon character and was shown a 4-feet tall cardboard of Bugs Bunny nearby. Results from the questionnaire reveal that less than 10% of the participants in groups 1 and 2, and around 30% to 40% of the participants in groups 3 and 4, remembered meeting Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. This research shows that despite conflicting schemas, that is, Bugs Bunny is a Warner Bros. character and not a Disneyland_character, priming can implant false memories to some people.
APA Guidelines on Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse
The American Psychological Association (APA), in the midst of legal issues concerning childhood sexual abuse, issued the following guidelines based from an interim report of a working group investigating repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse:
- Childhood sexual abuse is complex.
- Childhood sexual abuse is a pervasive problem in America.
- Childhood sexual abuse is historically unacknowledged in America.
- Controversies regarding adult recollections of childhood sexual abuse cannot obscure the first three facts mentioned.
- Most abused child victims remember all or part of what happened to them.
- It is possible for victims of childhood sexual abuse to recover repressed memories, although the mechanism is not well understood.
- It is possible for people to reconstruct false memories of childhood sexual abuse, although the mechanism is also not well understood.
- Judging the accuracy of recovered memories is uncertain due to gap in scientific knowledge.
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