False Memory

.. traced back to Plato’s various beliefs about the eidos. (Forms of reality which were variously described by Plato but always were held up as ‘more real’ than the world of sense experience which, in some way, was always held up as inferior to and dependant on the eidos.) The Platonic Model avoids the problem of determining whether or not a memory is accurate by claiming that the memory is not of a personal experience at all. It also confuses several types of mental states. It completely blurs the distinction between dream states and conscious states by eliminating the difference between remembering a sense experience one actually had and remembering a sense experience one never actually had.

This model gives validity to every fantasy and desire. If one is clever, though, one can destroy the first model with the second one. For example, a Jungian could claim that the repressed memories of all those who are now blaming their current troubles on forgotten and repressed memories of child abuse, are not memories of actual abuse but of an Archetype, the Abused Child Archetype. The story of Hansel and Gretel might be pulled in for “scientific” support of the idea. Unsupported assertions might be made regarding the unconscious desire of all children to be loved by their parents: as children, love could only be understood in terms of ego gratification, but as adults love is understood primarily in sexual terms.

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Because of the incest taboo, we can not bear the thought of wanting to be loved sexually by our parents, so this desire must be expressed in a perverse and inverse way: our parents love us sexually. But there is no evidence for this based upon our past or current relationship with our parents, so the mind creates the evidence by remembering being sexually abused as a child. Thus, the memory we have as adults of being sexually abused by our parents is actually the expression of the universal desire to be loved by our mother and father. It has nothing to do with any real experience; it has everything to do with a universal human desire. It also serves as a convenient excuse to absolve us of all responsibility for our failures and incompetence. The reason we are so screwed up is because our parents screwed us! How accurate and reliable is memory? We’re often wrong in thinking we accurately remember things. Studies on memory have shown that we often construct our memories after the fact, that we are susceptible to suggestions from others that help us fill in the gaps in our memories of certain events.

(Hyman, Jr., Husband & Billings, 1995) That is why, for example, a police officer investigating a crime should not show a picture of a single individual to a victim and ask if the victim recognizes the assailant. If the victim is then presented a line up and picks out the individual whose picture the victim had been shown, there is no way of knowing whether the victim is remembering the assailant or the picture. Another interesting fact about memory is that studies have shown that there is no significant correlation between the subjective feeling of certainty a person has about memory and that memory being accurate. Also, contrary to what many believe, hypnosis does not aid memory’s accuracy because subjects are extremely suggestible while under hypnosis. (Loftus, 1980) It is possible to create false memories in people’s minds by suggestion.

The mind does not record every detail of an event, but only a few features; we fill in the rest on what “must have been.” For an event to make it to long term storage, a person has to perceive it, encode it and rehearse it –tell about it– or it decays. (This seems to be the major mechanism behind childhood amnesia, the fact that children do not develop long term memory until roughly age three.) Otherwise, research finds, even emotional experiences we are sure we will never forget –the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion– will fade from memory, and errors will creep into the account that remain.(Travis, 1993) Research articles and court testimony confirm the wide spread use of memory enhancement techniques, in the belief that these will help recover accurate “memories”. These techniques include hypnosis, sodium amytal, dream interpretation, guided imagery, journaling, body massages, participation in survivor groups and reading of self help books. In the summer of 1993, the American Medical Association passed a resolution warning of the dangers of misapplication in the use of these techniques. In June of 1994 they issued a warning about all recovered memories. Both the AMA and the American Psychiatric Association have stated: .there is no completely accurate way of determining the validity of reports in the absence of corroborating information.[note 3] The problem with the practices mentioned above is that when they are used they increase the risk of influence and suggestibility. Why would someone remember something so horrible if it really did not happen? This is a haunting question, but there are several possible explanations which might shed light on some of the false memories.

A pseudomemory, for example, may be a kind of symbolic expression of troubled family relationships. There may be a cultural climate in our society in which the belief in the relationship between sexual abuse and individual pathology is nurtured. It may be that in such a climate people more readily believe things happened when they didn’t. When people enter therapy, they do so to get better. They want to change.

People also tend to look for some explanation for why they have a problem. Clients come to trust the person they have chosen to help them. Because they are trying to get better, clients tend to rely on the therapist’s opinion. If the therapist believes that the reason that the client has a problem is because of some past trauma, and especially if the therapist believes that the patient will not get better unless he or she remembers the trauma, the patient will work to find what he or she thinks is a trauma memory in order to get better. Richard Ofshe, Ph.D. and Ethan Watters noted that, “No one — not the patients, therapists, parents or critics of recovered memory therapy — question that this therapy is an intensely difficult and painful experience.

That the pain of therapy is real should not be accepted, however, as an argument that the memories uncovered are accurate. One’s emotional reaction to a perceived memory need not correlate with the veracity of that event, but rather only to whether one believes that event to be true.”[note 4] Therapists may believe that they are helping clients and improving a culture in which sex abuse is far too prevalent. A patient may find group acceptance in the cadre of survivors and find “the” reason for problems. Patients suffering from severe psychological symptoms are known to engage in what is called, “effort after meaning” (Bass & Davis, 1988), in that they seek some explanation, however remote, for suffering. So, should accounts of repressed memory be dismissed out of hand? Of course not! But there should be an attempt to corroborate such memories with independent evidence and testimony before drawing conclusions about actual abuses or crimes. Such accounts should be taken very seriously and should be critically examined, giving them all the attention and investigative analysis we would give to any allegation of crime. But we should not rush to judgement, either about the accuracy of the memories of about the causal connection between past experiences and present problems.

We should neither automatically reject as false memories which have been repressed for years and are suddenly recollected, nor should we automatically accept such memories as true. In terms of verification of their accuracy, these memories should not be treated any differently than any other type of memory. NOTES 1. Yet, it has happened. In a modern version of the Salem witch hunts, the McMartin pre-school case exemplifies the very worst in institutionalized justice on the hunt for child molesters.

See, Mason, M. (Sept. 1991). The McMartin case revisited: the conflict between social work and criminal justice, Social Work, v.36, no.5. 391-396. [on evaluating the credibility of children as witnesses in sexual abuse cases] , 2. See, Council on Scientific Affairs, (1994). American Medical Association, June 16.

3. See, Council on Scientific Affairs, (1994). American Medical Association, June 16. 4. See, Ofshe, R., & Watters, E., (1994).

Making Monsters: False Memory, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria. p.109. REFERENCES Bass, E. & Davis, L., (1988). The Courage To Heal, p.173. Council on Scientific Affairs, (1994).

American Medical Association, June 16. Hyman, I.E. Jr., Husband, T.H. & Billings, F.J., (1995). Prompting false childhood memories.

Applied Cognitive Psychology, 9, pp.181-197. Lindsay, S. & Read, D., (1994). Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, p.302. London., (1995). Independent Practitioner, March 1, 64. Loftus, E., (1980).

Memory, Surprising New Insights Into How We Remember and Why We Forget, Reading, Mass,: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. Loftus, E., & Ketcham, K., (1987). Eye Witness Testimony: Civil and Criminal, New York, N.Y.: Kluwer Law Book Publishers. Loftus, E., (1980).

Eye Witness Testimony, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Mason, M., (Sept. 1991). The McMartin case revisited: the conflict between social work and criminal justice,” Social Work, 36, no. 5, pp.391-396.

Ofshe, R., & Watters, E., (1994). Making Monsters: False Memory, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria. p.109. Tavris, C., (1993). Hysteria and the Incest Survivor Machine, Sacramento Bee, Forum section, January 17, p.1.