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The core material for the false memories can be borrowed from the accounts of others who are either known personally or encountered in literature, movies, and television. There are at least two important sources that could potentially feed into the construction of false memories. These include popular writings and therapists' suggestions.

The Courage to Heal advertises itself as a guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse. Although the book is undoubtedly a great comfort to the sexual abuse survivors who have been living with their private and painful memories, one cannot help but wonder about its effects on those who have no such memories. Readers who are wondering whether they might be victims of child sexual abuse are provided with a list of possible activities ranging from the relatively bening e. Readers are then told "If you are unable to remember any specific instances like the ones mentioned above but still have a feeling that something abusive happened to you, it probably did" p.

On the next page, the reader is told You may think you don't have memories, but often as you begin to talk about what you do remember, there emerges a constellation of feelings, reactions and recollections that add up to substantial information. To say, "I was abused," you don't need the kind of recall that would stand up in a court of law. Often the knowledge that you were abused starts with a tiny feeling, an intuition Assume your feelings are valid. So far, no one we've talked to thought she might have been abused, and then later discovered that she hadn't been.

The progression always goes the other way, from suspicion to confirmation. If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were. The authors list low self-esteem, suicidal or self-destructive thoughts, depression, and sexual dysfunction, among others. Others have worried about the role played by The Courage to Heal. In all fairness, however, it should be mentioned that the book is long pages , and sentences taken out of context may distort their intended meaning.

Nonetheless, readers without any abuse memories of their own cannot escape the message that there is a strong likelihood that abuse occurred even in the absence of such memories. The recent incest book industry has published not only stories of abuse but also suggestions to readers that they were likely abused even if there are no memories, that repressed memories of abuse undoubtedly underlie one's troubles, or that benefits derive from uncovering repressed memories and believing them.

Sue Blume , the book jacket of which itemizes one of the author's chief credentials as the "Creator of the Incest Survivors' Aftereffects Checklist. She goes on to say that "Indeed, so few incest survivors in my experience have identified themselves as abused in the beginning of therapy that I have concluded that perhaps half of all incest survivors do not remember that the abuse occurred" p. Some of the volumes provide exercises to help readers lift the repression.

Farmer , for example, tells readers to try one particular exercise "whether or not you have any conscious recollection of the abuse you suffered" p. The reader is to sit down, relax, and mentally return to childhood. The next step is to choose a particular memory, whether fuzzy or clear, and "bring that memory to your full attention" p. Details about what to do with the memory are provided, along with an example from the life of "Danielle," who thought about how verbally abusive her father had been, and "Hazel," who remembered anger at her mother's treating her like a rag doll.

This exercise allegedly helped to "lift the lid of repression" and unbury the "Hurting Child. Do these examples lift the lid of repression? But another equally viable hypothesis is that the examples influence the creation of memories or, at the very least, direct the search through memory that the reader will ultimately take. Blume's observation that so many individuals enter therapy without memories of abuse but acquire memories during therapy naturally makes one wonder about what might be happening in therapy.

According to Ganaway , honestly believed but false memories could come about in another way, through unintentional suggestion from therapists. Ganaway noted a growing trend toward the facile acceptance and expressed validation of uncorroborated trauma memories, perhaps in part due to sensitization from years of accusations that the memories are purely fantasy.

Whereas an earlier generation of therapists might have been discounting or minimizing their patients' traumatic experiences, the recent rediscovery of psychological trauma has let to errors of the opposite kind. Some contemporary therapists have been known to tell patients, merely on the basis of a suggestive history or symptom profile, that they definitely had a traumatic experience.

Even if there is no memory, but merely some vague symptoms, certain therapists will inform a patient after a single session that he or she was very likely the victim of a satanic cult. Once the "diagnosis" is made, the therapist urges the patient to pursue the recalcitrant memories. Although some therapists recommend against persistent, intrusive probing to uncover early traumatic memories e. Evidence for this claim comes in a variety of forms: And I wonder if anything like that ever happened to you? Other clinicians claim to know of therapists who say "Your symptoms sound like you've been abused when you were a child.

What can you tell me about that? Tell me what that bastard did to you" Davis, , p. At least one clinician advocated "It is crucial The rationale for this prescription is that a clinician who asks conveys to the client that the client will be believed and that the clinician will join with the client in working through the memories and emotions linked with childhood sexual abuse.

Asking about sexual abuse along with a list of other past life events makes sense given the high instance of actual abuse, but the concern is how the issue is raised and what therapists do when clients initially deny an abusive past. Evidence exists that some therapists do not take no for an answer.

She went on to provide the example of a client who suspected sexual abuse but had no memories.

The client had become extremely anxious at a social gathering in the presence of a three-year-old girl. She had no idea why she was upset except that she wanted the little girl to keep her dress down. When encouraged in therapy to tell a story about what was going to happen to the little girl, the client ultimately related with tears and trembling one of the first memories of her own abuse. She used the story to "bypass her cognitive inhibitions and express the content of the memory" p.

Later she "integrated the awareness that she was indeed the little girl in the story" p. One cannot help but wonder about these mental fantasy exercises in light of known research showing that the simple act of imagination makes an event subjectively more likely e. Even if the therapist does not encourage the client to guess or tell a story, stories sometimes get told in the form of client dreams.

If discussions of incest go on during the day, and day residue gets into the dreams at night, it would not be surprising to see that dreams of incest might result. Poston and Lison described a woman with "repressed memories" of incest who reported a dream about watching a little girl ice skate on a frozen river.

In her dream, the woman tried desperately to warn the child that monsters and snakes were making their way through the ice to devour her. Although frightened, the woman was powerless and could not warn the innocent child. A few days later, the client began remembering incest from her childhood. Knowing she had "a trusted relationship with a therapist and a survivor's group that would understand and accept her" p. Examples of therapists interpreting dreams as signs of memory of abuse can be found throughout the literature.

One clinician described with pride how she communicated to her male patient the basis for her suspicions that he had been abused: Frederickson , who has worked with many incest survivors, has also described in detail her methods of getting patients to remember. She recommended that the therapist guide the patient "to expand on or explore images that have broken through to the conscious mind, allowing related images of the abuse to surface.

The process lets the survivor complete the picture of what happened, using a current image or flash as a jumping-off point" p. She also suggested that the therapist help the patient expand on the images and sensations evoked by dreams "to shed light on or recover our repressed memories" p. She extolled the virtues of hypnosis to "retrieve buried memories" p. Include your own felt sense of how you think you were abused" p. Even if clinicians are not the first to bring up sexual abuse, they will often reinforce what begins as a mere suspicion.

One client developed the idea that she might have been sexually abused, tried hypnosis to help her recover memories, and obsessed for years. Only after her therapist stated that she believed sexual assault was "indeed possible" and cited nightmares, phobia of men, and other symptoms as evidence did the client come up with some specific memories Schuker, , p. Before leaving the examples of therapist accounts of what goes on in therapy, it is important to add a word of caution.

Sherrill Mulhern, a psychiatric anthropologist, has documented the alarming discrepancies that often exist between therapists' accounts of what they have done in therapy and what is revealed in video- or audiotapes of those same sessions Mulhern, If memories are uncovered—whether after repeated probing, after telling stories, after dreams, or seemingly spontaneously—or even if the memories remain buried, therapists often send their clients to support groups.

One group, Survivors of Incest Anonymous SIA , publishes extensive reading materials intended to aid the recovery of incest survivors. The criteria for admission make it clear that entry is fine for those with no memories of sexual abuse: These and other questions e. Do you feel easily intimidated by authority figures? Although support groups are undoubtedly invaluable for genuine survivors of sexual abuse, as they are for other survivors of extreme situations, such as combat and political persecution Herman, , p. Do these groups foster the development of constructed memories?

An investigative journalist attending a four-day workshop watched the construction of memory at work Nathan, With members recounting graphic details of SRA abuse, how long will they listen to the person who can only say "I think I was abused, but I don't have any memories. Another source for suggestions in therapy can be found in client accounts of what happened to them.

Recently, clients have been reporting that a therapist has suggested that childhood abuse was the cause of their current distress. However, these clients have no memories of such abuse. One woman from Oregon entered therapy to deal with depression and anxiety, and within a few months her therapist suggested that the cause could be childhood sexual abuse. She wrote asking for help in remembering: Since that time, he has become more and more certain of his diagnosis I have no direct memories of this abuse The question I can't get past is how something so terrible could have happened to me without me remembering anything.

For the past two years I have done little else but try to remember. I've tried self-hypnosis and light trance work with my therapist. And I even travelled to childhood homes Attorney Greg Zimmerman went to a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, to deal with his father's suicide. He told ABC, "I would try to talk to her about the things that were very painful in my life and she kept saying that there was something else" p. Zimmerman grew more and more depressed as the mystery of that "something else" would not unravel, and then, during a therapy session, his therapist stunned him with her diagnosis: Zimmerman had said nothing whatsoever to her to provoke this diagnosis, apparently her standard.

It is easy to find published accounts that describe the emergence of memories in therapy and the techniques that therapists have used to uncover those memories e. One account, written under the pseudonym of Jill Morgan, told of a series of positively horrifying memories of abuse by her father. He raped her when she was 4 years old, again at age 9, once again at age 13, for seven straight days and nights at age 15, and for the final time at age For the next several years, all misery was withheld from conscious memory, and then, at age 29, she was helped to remember in therapy: The involvement of hypnosis and age regression prompts the natural inquiry into whether these techniques produce authentic memories.

Unfortunately, the evidence is discouraging: There is an extensive literature seriously questioning the reliability of hypnotically enhanced memory in general Smith, , and hypnotic age regression in particular Nash, Hypnotic attempts to improve memory increase the confidence in what is recalled more than the accuracy Bowers, Even more worrisome is the impossibility of reversing the process; the hypnotically induced memory becomes the person's reality Orne, With hypnotic regression, men and women have been known to recall being abducted by aliens aboard exotic spacecraft and other forgotten events Gordon, A more detailed client account is that of Betsy Petersen , as described in an autobiographical account, Dancing With Daddy.

Petersen, a Harvard graduate and accomplished writer, revealed in her first book that she repressed memory of sexual abuse by her father until she was 45 years old. Betsy entered therapy with "Kris" for problems relating to her children, and almost a year after starting therapy she started worrying, "I'm afraid my father did something to me.

When she told her therapist about this, she said "I don't know if I made it up or if it's real. Kris told her, in Betsy's words, "It was consistent with what I remembered about my father and my relationship with him, and with the dreams I had been having, and with the difficulties I had being close to my children, and also, she said, with the feelings I had during and after sex with my husband" p. Betsy worked hard to retrieve incest memories: I put all my skill—as a reporter, novelist, scholar—to work making that reconstruction as accurate and vivid as possible.

I used the memories I had to get to the memories I didn't have" p. The therapist convinces the patient with no memories that abuse is likely, and the patient obligingly uses reconstructive strategies to generate memories that would support that conviction.

In addition to the first-person accounts, more formal studies of incest survivors provide clues to what might be happening in therapy. The primary focus of their therapy was "the uncovering of memories" p. The majority participated in step programs e. These groups provided substitute families for the clients who had severed ties with their families of origin. Other similar studies of ritualistic abuse rememberers have revealed that most of the victims have no memory of the abuse before therapy e. Information gathered during litigation is another source of knowledge about the emergence of memories in therapy.

Take the case of Patti Barton against her father, John Peters, a successful businessman. Peters reveal that Patti Barton began therapy with a Dr. CD, a doctor of divinity, in July CD's notes indicate that, during the 32nd session of therapy, Patti expressed "fear her father has sexually tampered with her" Deposition of CD, April 21, , Barton v. This was the first time that anything like that had come up in any of the sessions.

Shortly thereafter, Patti related a dream that a man was after her. CD apparently then used the technique of visualization wherein Patti would try to visualize her past. He got her to remember eye surgery at the age of 7 months. As for the abuse, one of the earliest acts of abuse he managed to dredge up with this method occurred when Patti was 15 months old. After he stuck his tongue in my mouth—Well, it seemed to last for hours and hours even though I know it didn't.

But it was awful to me and an event that seemed to last for hours. I started crying, and I crawled over to the wall. And I started banging my head on the wall. And my mother came into the room, and she picked me up. And I tried to tell her in baby talk what had happened. Deposition of PB, May , Barton v. Later, Patti would remember that her father touched her in her crotch and put his penis in her mouth when she was three years old, and that she stroked his penis over and over at age four.

Rape would come later. Patti's father eventually agreed to give his daughter the deed to a piece of land he owned, but he continued to deny the charges. Her brother, a Baptist minister in Alaska, claimed that Satan's wicked spirits planted untruths in Patti's head Laker, Did it take some sessions for the therapist to uncover actual memories of abuse, or some sessions for false memories of abuse to begin to be visualized and constructed? Often, confidentiality considerations prevent access to interactions between therapists and clients. However, when cases get into litigation, special interviewing is frequently done, and occasionally it is recorded.

Recordings were done in a case implicating a man named Paul Ingram from Olympia, Washington Watters, Ingram was arrested for child abuse in , amid expressions of shock from his community. At the time he was chair of the county Republican committee and was chief civil deputy in the sheriff's office. He had worked in law enforcement for more than a decade. The Ingram case began at a time when waves of rumor and media hype over satanic ritualistic abuse were rampant.

At first Ingram denied everything, and detectives told him he was in denial. With the help of a psychologist who exerted enormous pressure over endless hours of interrogation, Ingram's memories of abusing his daughter began to appear. Then the psychologist, with the help of a detective, "interviewed" Ingram's son. In that interview, the son reported on his dreams, and the therapist and detective convinced him that the dreams were real.

In another case, a father Mr. K hired a private investigator after his year-old daughter reported a recently uncovered repressed memory and accused him of incest. The investigator, acting under cover, went to see the daughter's therapist complaining that she had night-mares and had trouble sleeping. On the third visit, the therapist told undercover agent that she was an incest survivor.

According to the investigator's report Monesi, , the therapist said this to her pseudopatient: I could not remember because my brain had blocked the memory that was too painful to deal with. After that there was the Courage to Heal Work-book, which tells survivors how to cope with the fears and memories. She pulled Secret Survivors by E. Blume from the shelf, opened the cover, and read the list of symptoms of incest survivors. With two thirds of the symptoms, she would look at the pseudopatient and shake her head yes as if this was confirmation of her diagnosis.

She recommended incest survivor groups. In the fourth session, the diagnosis of probable incest victim was confirmed on the basis of the "classic symptoms" of body memory and sleep disorders. When the patient insisted that she had no memory of such events, the therapist assured her this was often the case. Therapists routinely dig deliberately into the ugly underbelly of mental life. They dig for memories purposefully because they believe that in order to get well, to become survivors rather than victims, their clients must overcome the protective denial that was used to tolerate the abuse during childhood Sgroi, , p.

Memory blocks can be protective in many ways, but they come at a cost; they cut off the survivors from a significant part of their past histories and leave them without good explanations for their negative self-image, low self-esteem, and other mental problems. These memories must be brought into consciousness, not as an end in itself but only insofar as it helps the survivors acknowledge reality and overcome denial processes that are now dysfunctional p.

People in general, therapists included, have a tendency to search for evidence that confirms their hunches rather than search for evidence that disconfirms. It is not easy to discard long-held or cherished beliefs, in part because we are eager to verify those beliefs and are not inclined to seek evidence that might disprove them.

The notion that the beliefs that individuals hold can create their own social reality is the essence of the self-fulfilling prophecy Snyder, How does "reality" get constructed? One way this can happen is through interview strategies. Interviewers are known to choose questions that inquire about behaviors and experiences thought to be characteristic, rather than those thought to be uncharacteristic, of some particular classification. If therapists ask questions that tend to elicit behaviors and experiences thought to be characteristic of someone who had been a victim of childhood trauma, might they too be creating this social reality?

Whatever the good intentions of therapists, the documented examples of rampant suggestion should force us to at least ponder whether some therapists might be suggesting illusory memories to their clients rather than unlocking authentic distant memories. Or, paraphrasing Gardner , what is considered to be present in the client's unconscious mind might actually be present solely in the therapist's conscious mind p.

Ganaway worried that, once seeded by the therapist, false memories could develop that replace previously unsatisfactory internal explanations for intolerable but more prosaic childhood trauma. The hypothesis that false memories could be created invites an inquiry into the important question of what is known about false memories. Since the mids at least, investigations have been done into the creation of false memories through exposure to misinformation.

Conflict of Interest Statement

Now, nearly two decades later, there are hundreds of studies to support a high degree of memory distortion. This growing body of research shows that new, postevent information often becomes incorporated into memory, supplementing and altering a person's recollection. The new information invades us, like a Trojan horse, precisely because we do not detect its influence.

Understanding how we can become tricked by revised data about our past is central to understanding the hypothesis that suggestions from popular writings and therapy sessions can affect autobiographical recall. There is no evidence, the critics allege, that one can tinker with memories of real traumatic events or that one can inject into the human mind whole events that never happened.

There are some who argue that traumatic events leave some sort of indelible fixation in the mind e. These assertions fail to recognize known examples and evidence that memory is malleable even for life's most traumatic experiences. If Eileen Franklin's memory of witnessing her father murder her eight-year-old best friend is a real memory, then it too is a memory replete with changes over different tellings.

However, there are clearer examples—anecdotal reports in which definite evidence exists that the traumatic event itself was actually experienced and yet the memory radically changed. Baseball aficionados may recall that Jack Hamilton, then a pitcher with the California Angels, crushed the outfielder, Tony Conigliaro, in the face with a first-pitch fastball. Although Hamilton thought he remembered this horrible event perfectly, he misremembered it as occurring during a day game, when it was actually at night, and misremembered it in other critical ways.

Another example will be appreciated by history buffs, particularly those with an interest in the second world war. American Brigadier General Elliot Thorpe recalled the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor one way in a memoir and completely differently in an oral history taken on his retirement. Both accounts, in fact, were riddled with errors Weintraub, Evidence of a less anecdotal, more experimental nature supports the imperfections of personally experienced traumatic memories.

Subjects were questioned on the morning after the explosion and again nearly three years later. Most described their memories as vivid, but none of them were entirely correct, and more than one third were wildly inaccurate. One subject, for example, was on the telephone having a business discussion when her best friend interrupted the call with the news. Later she would remember that she heard the news in class and at first thought it was a joke, and that she later walked into a TV lounge and saw the news, and then reacted to the disaster.

Another study Abhold, demonstrated the malleability of memory for a serious life-and-death situation. The subjects had attended an important high school football game at which a player on the field went into cardiac arrest. Paramedics tried to resuscitate the player and apparently failed. The audience reactions ranged from complete silence, to sobbing, to screaming. Ultimately, fortunately, the player was revived at the hospital.

Memory Distortion for Traumatic Events: The Role of Mental Imagery

Six years later, many of these people were interviewed. Errors of recollection were common. Moreover, when exposed to misleading information about this life-and-death event, many individuals absorbed the misinformation into their recollections. For example, more than one fourth of the subjects were persuaded that they had seen blood on the player's jersey after receiving a false suggestion to this effect. These anecdotes and experimental examples suggest that even details of genuinely experienced traumatic events are, as Christianson put it, "by no means, completely accurate" p.

It is one thing to discover that memory for an actual traumatic event is changed over time but quite another to show that one can inject a whole event into someone's mind for something that never happened. There are numerous anecdotes and experimental studies that show it is indeed possible to lead people to construct entire events. The false memories were with him for at least a decade.

The memory was of an attempted kidnapping that occurred when he was an infant. He found out it was false when his nanny confessed years later that she had made up the entire story and felt guilty about keeping the watch she had received as a reward. In explaining this false memory, Piaget assumed, "I, therefore, must have heard, as a child, the account of this story, which my parents believed, and projected into the past in the form of a visual memory. Although widely disseminated and impressive at first glance, Piaget's false memory is still but a single anecdote and subject to other interpretations.

Was this really a memory, or an interesting story? Could it be that the assault actually happened and the nurse, for some inexplicable reason, lied later? For these reasons it would be nice to find stronger evidence that a false memory for a complete event was genuinely implanted. An apparently genuine 19th-century memory implantation was reported by Laurence and Perry Bernheim, during hypnosis, suggested to a female subject that she had awakened four times during the previous night to go to the toilet and had fallen on her nose on the fourth occasion. After hypnosis, the woman insisted that the suggested events had actually occurred, despite the hypnotist's insistence that she had dreamed them.

Impressed by Bernheim's success, and by explorations by Orne , Laurence and Perry asked 27 highly hypnotizable individuals during hypnosis to choose a night from the previous week and to describe their activities during the half hour before going to sleep. The subjects were then instructed to relive that night, and a suggestion was implanted that they had heard some loud noises and had awakened. Almost one half 13 of the 27 subjects accepted the suggestion and stated after hypnosis that the suggested event had actually taken place.

Of the 13, 6 were unequivocal in their certainty. The remainder came to the conclusion on basis of reconstruction. Even when told that the hypnotist had actually suggested the noises, these subjects still maintained that the noises had occurred. One said "I'm pretty certain I heard them. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty damned certain. The paradigm of inducing pseudomemories of being awakened by loud noises has now been used extensively by other researchers who readily replicate the basic findings. Moreover, the pseudomemories are not limited to hypnotic conditions. Other evidence shows that people can be tricked into believing that they experienced an event even in the absence of specific hypnotic suggestions.

One interpretation of these findings is that people fill in the gaps in their memory with socially desirable constructions, thus creating for themselves a false memory of voting. In other studies, people have been led to believe that they witnessed assaultive behavior when in fact they did not e. In this study, children aged four to seven years were led to believe that they saw a man hit a girl, when he had not, after hearing the girl lie about the assault.

Not only did they misrecall the nonexistent hitting, but they added their own details: Of 41 false claims, 39 children said it happened near a pond, 1 said it was at the girl's house, and 1 could not specify exactly where the girl was when the man hit her. People can hold completely false memories for something far more traumatic than awakening at night, voting in a particular election, or a simulation involving a man and a girl. Pynoos and Nader studied children's recollections of a sniper attack at an elementary school playground. Some of the children who were interviewed were not at the school during the shooting, including some who were already on the way home or were on vacation.

Yet, even the nonwitnesses had memories: One girl initially said that she was at the school gate nearest the sniper when the shooting began. In truth she was not only out of the line of fire, she was half a block away. A boy who had been away on vacation said that he had been on his way to the school, had seen someone lying on the ground, had heard the shots, and then turned back. In actuality, a police barricade prevented anyone from approaching the block around the school. The memories apparently were created by exposure to the stories of those who truly experienced the trauma.

A question arises as to whether one could experimentally implant memories for nonexistent events that, if they had occurred, would have been traumatic. Given the need to protect human subjects, devising a means of accomplishing this was not an easy task. Loftus and Coan in press , however, developed a paradigm for instilling a specific childhood memory for being lost on a particular occasion at the age of five.

They chose getting lost because it is clearly a great fear of both parents and children. Their initial observations show how subjects can be readily induced to believe this kind of false memory. The technique involved a subject and a trusted family member who played a variation of "Remember the time that? Chris was convinced by his older brother, Jim, that he had been lost in a shopping mall when he was 5 years old. Jim told Chris this story as if it were the truth: I remember that Chris was 5.

We had gone shopping at the University City shopping mall in Spokane. After some panic, we found Chris being led down the mall by a tall, oldish man I think he was wearing a flannel shirt. Chris was crying and holding the man's hand. The man explained that he had found Chris walking around crying his eyes out just a few mements before and was trying to help him find his parents.

Just two days later, Chris recalled his feelings about being lost: I knew that I was in trouble. It would be natural to wonder whether perhaps Chris had really gotten lost that day. Maybe it happened, but his brother forgot. But Chris's mother was subjected to the same procedure and was never able to remember the false event. After five days of trying, she said "I feel very badly about it, but I just cannot remember anything like this ever happening. A couple of weeks later, Chris described his false memory and he greatly expanded on it. I was with you guys for a second and I think I went over to look at the toy store, the Kay-bee toy and uh, we got lost and I was looking around and I thought, "Uh-oh.

I'm in trouble now. I thought I was never going to see my family again. I was really scared you know. And then this old man, I think he was wearing a blue flannel, came up to me He was kind of bald on top Thus, in two short weeks, Chris now could even remember the balding head and the glasses worn by the man who rescued him. He characterized his memory as reasonably clear and vivid. Finally, Chris was debriefed. He was told that one of the memories presented to him earlier had been false. When asked to guess, he guessed one of the genuine memories. When told that it was the getting-lost memory, he said, "Really?

I thought I remembered being lost I do remember that. And mom coming up and saying 'Where were you. Don't you ever do that again. The lost-in-a-shopping-mall example shows that memory of an entire mildly traumatic event can be created. It is still natural to wonder whether one could go even further and implant a memory of abuse. Ethically, of course, it would not be possible, but anecdotally, as it happens, it was done. It is one of the most dramatic cases of false memory of abuse ever to be documented—the case of Paul Ingram from Olympia, Washington Ofshe, ; Watters, As described above, Ingram, was arrested for child abuse in at the time he was chair of the county Republican committee.

After five months of interrogation, suggestions from a psychologist, and continuing pressure from detectives and advisors, Ingram began to confess to rapes, assaults, child sexual abuse, and participation in a Satan-worshiping cult alleged to have murdered 25 babies Ofshe, To elicit specific memories, the psychologist or detectives would suggest some act of abuse e.

Ingram would at first not remember these fragments, but after a concerted effort on his part, he would later come up with a detailed memory. Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist hired by the prosecution to interview Ingram and his family members, decided to test Ingram's credibility. Ofshe had made up a completely fabricated scenario. He told Ingram that two of his children a daughter and a son had reported that Ingram had forced them to have sex in front of him.

As with the earlier suggestions, Ingram at first could not remember this. But Ofshe urged Ingram to try to think about the scene and try to see it happening, just as the interrogators had done to him earlier. Ingram began to get some visual images. Ingram then followed Ofshe's instructions to "pray on" the scene and try to remember more over the next few hours. Several hours later, Ingram had developed detailed memories and wrote a three-page statement confessing in graphic detail to the scene that Ofshe had invented Ofshe, ;Watters, Ofshe , noted that this was not the first time that a vulnerable individual had been made to believe that he had committed a crime for which he originally had no memory and which evidence proved he could not have committed.

What is crucial about the Ingram case is that some of the same methods that are used in repressed memory cases were used with Ingram. These include the use of protracted imagining of events and authority figures establishing the authenticity of these events. These examples provide further insights into the malleable nature of memory. They suggest that memories for personally experience traumatic events can be altered by new experiences.


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Moreover, they reveal that entire events that never happened can be injected into memory. The false memories range from the relatively trivial e. These false memories, with more or less detail, of course do not prove that repressed memories of abuse that return are false. They do demonstrate a mechanism by which false memories can be created by a small suggestion from a trusted family member, by hearing someone lie, by suggestion from a psychologist, or by incorporation of the experiences of others into one's own autobiography.

Of course, the fact that false memories can be planted tells nothing about whether a given memory of child sexual abuse is false or not; nor does it tell how one might distinguish the real cases from the false ones. These findings on the malleability of memory do, however, raise questions about the wisdom of certain recommendations being promoted in self-help workbooks, in handbooks for therapists, and by some therapists themselves. The false memories created in the examples above were accomplished with techniques that are not all that different from what some therapists regularly do—suggesting that the client was probably abused because of some vague symptoms, labeling a client's ambiguous recollections as evidence of abuse, and encouraging mental exercises that involve fantasy merging with reality.

The s brought a blossoming of reports of awakenings of previously repressed memories of childhood abuse. One reason for the increase may be the widespread statistics on sex abuse percentages that are published almost daily: A9 ; "In , , [child abuse cases] were reported nationally, and by the number had exceeded 1.

Memory Distortion for Traumatic Events: The Role of Mental Imagery

The appearance of abuse statistics is one battle in the war waged against an earlier tendency on the part of society to disbelieve the abuse reports of women and children—a tendency that we should all deplore. The repressed memory cases are another outlet for women's rage over sexual violence. Although women's anger is certainly justified in many cases, and may be justified in some repressed memory cases too, it is time to stop and ask whether the net of rage has been cast too widely, creating a new collective nightmare.

Repressed memories of abuse often return in therapy, sometimes after suggestive probing. Today, popular writings have been so fully absorbed by the culture that these too can serve as a source of suggestion that can greatly influence what happens in therapy and outside of it Guze, The result is memories that are often detailed and confidently held.

Despite lack of corroboration, some of these recollections could be authentic. Others might not be. Several implications of these observations follow. First, we need a renewed effort at research on the problem of repressed memories. This should encompass, in part, a reexamination of some of the widely cherished beliefs of psychotherapists. Is it true that repression of extremely traumatic experiences is common? Do these experiences invade us despite the fact that "all the good juice of consciousness has drained out" Dennett, , p. It is common to see analogies drawn between Vietnam Warveterans and the incest survivors e.

If so, how do we explain findings obtained with children who witness parental murder and other atrocities? In one study Malmquist, , not a single child aged 5 to 10 years who had witnessed the murder of a parent repressed the memory. Rather, they were continually flooded with pangs of emotion about the murder and preoccupation with it.

Is it true that repressed material, like radioactive waste, "lies there in leaky canisters, never losing potency, eternally dangerous" Hornstein, , p. Psychotherapists have assumed for years that repressed memories are powerful influences because they are not accessible to consciousness Bowers, Is there evidence for this assumption? Is it necessarily true that all people who display symptoms of severe mental distress have had some early childhood trauma probably abuse that is responsible for the distress? Questions must also be examined about the well-intentioned treatment strategies of some clinicians.

Is it possible that the therapist's interpretation is the cause of the patient's disorder rather than the effect of the disorder, to paraphrase Guze , p. Is it necessarily true that people who cannot remember an abusive childhood are repressing the memory? Is it necessarily true that people who dream about or visualize abuse are actually getting in touch with true memories? Infants do not have the language ability to report on their memories and so verbal reports cannot be used to assess very young children's memory.

Throughout the years, however, researchers have adapted and developed a number of measures for assessing both infants' recognition memory and their recall memory. Habituation and operant conditioning techniques have been used to assess infants' recognition memory and the deferred and elicited imitation techniques have been used to assess infants' recall memory. Researchers use a variety of tasks to assess older children and adults' memory.

Brain areas involved in the neuroanatomy of memory such as the hippocampus , the amygdala , the striatum , or the mammillary bodies are thought to be involved in specific types of memory. For example, the hippocampus is believed to be involved in spatial learning and declarative learning , while the amygdala is thought to be involved in emotional memory. Damage to certain areas in patients and animal models and subsequent memory deficits is a primary source of information.

However, rather than implicating a specific area, it could be that damage to adjacent areas, or to a pathway traveling through the area is actually responsible for the observed deficit. Further, it is not sufficient to describe memory, and its counterpart, learning , as solely dependent on specific brain regions. Learning and memory are usually attributed to changes in neuronal synapses , thought to be mediated by long-term potentiation and long-term depression.

However, this has been questioned on computational as well as neurophysiological grounds by the cognitive scientist Charles R. In general, the more emotionally charged an event or experience is, the better it is remembered; this phenomenon is known as the memory enhancement effect.

Patients with amygdala damage, however, do not show a memory enhancement effect. Hebb distinguished between short-term and long-term memory. He postulated that any memory that stayed in short-term storage for a long enough time would be consolidated into a long-term memory. Later research showed this to be false. Research has shown that direct injections of cortisol or epinephrine help the storage of recent experiences.

This is also true for stimulation of the amygdala. This proves that excitement enhances memory by the stimulation of hormones that affect the amygdala. Excessive or prolonged stress with prolonged cortisol may hurt memory storage. Patients with amygdalar damage are no more likely to remember emotionally charged words than nonemotionally charged ones. The hippocampus is important for explicit memory. The hippocampus is also important for memory consolidation. The hippocampus receives input from different parts of the cortex and sends its output out to different parts of the brain also.

The input comes from secondary and tertiary sensory areas that have processed the information a lot already. Hippocampal damage may also cause memory loss and problems with memory storage. Cognitive neuroscientists consider memory as the retention, reactivation, and reconstruction of the experience-independent internal representation. The term of internal representation implies that such definition of memory contains two components: The latter component is also called engram or memory traces Semon Some neuroscientists and psychologists mistakenly equate the concept of engram and memory, broadly conceiving all persisting after-effects of experiences as memory; others argue against this notion that memory does not exist until it is revealed in behavior or thought Moscovitch One question that is crucial in cognitive neuroscience is how information and mental experiences are coded and represented in the brain.

Scientists have gained much knowledge about the neuronal codes from the studies of plasticity, but most of such research has been focused on simple learning in simple neuronal circuits; it is considerably less clear about the neuronal changes involved in more complex examples of memory, particularly declarative memory that requires the storage of facts and events Byrne Convergence-divergence zones might be the neural networks where memories are stored and retrieved.

Considering that there are several kinds of memory, depending on types of represented knowledge, underlying mechanisms, processes functions and modes of acquisition, it is likely that different brain areas support different memory systems and that they are in mutual relationships in neuronal networks: Study of the genetics of human memory is in its infancy. The search for genes associated with normally varying memory continues.

One of the first candidates for normal variation in memory is the protein KIBRA , [42] which appears to be associated with the rate at which material is forgotten over a delay period. There has been some evidence that memories are stored in the nucleus of neurons. Up until the mids it was assumed that infants could not encode, retain, and retrieve information. Whereas month-olds can recall a three-step sequence after being exposed to it once, 6-month-olds need approximately six exposures in order to be able to remember it. Although 6-month-olds can recall information over the short-term, they have difficulty recalling the temporal order of information.

It is only by 9 months of age that infants can recall the actions of a two-step sequence in the correct temporal order — that is, recalling step 1 and then step 2. Younger infants 6-month-olds can only recall one step of a two-step sequence. In fact, the term 'infantile amnesia' refers to the phenomenon of accelerated forgetting during infancy. Importantly, infantile amnesia is not unique to humans, and preclinical research using rodent models provides insight into the precise neurobiology of this phenomenon. A review of the literature from behavioral neuroscientist Dr Jee Hyun Kim suggests that accelerated forgetting during early life is at least partly due to rapid growth of the brain during this period.

One of the key concerns of older adults is the experience of memory loss , especially as it is one of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Research has revealed that individuals' performance on memory tasks that rely on frontal regions declines with age. Older adults tend to exhibit deficits on tasks that involve knowing the temporal order in which they learned information; [52] source memory tasks that require them to remember the specific circumstances or context in which they learned information; [53] and prospective memory tasks that involve remembering to perform an act at a future time.

Older adults can manage their problems with prospective memory by using appointment books, for example. Much of the current knowledge of memory has come from studying memory disorders , particularly amnesia. Loss of memory is known as amnesia. Amnesia can result from extensive damage to: Other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease [56] can also affect memory and cognition. Hyperthymesia , or hyperthymesic syndrome, is a disorder that affects an individual's autobiographical memory, essentially meaning that they cannot forget small details that otherwise would not be stored.

While not a disorder, a common temporary failure of word retrieval from memory is the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.


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Sufferers of Anomic aphasia also called Nominal aphasia or Anomia , however, do experience the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon on an ongoing basis due to damage to the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain. Interference can hamper memorization and retrieval. There is retroactive interference , when learning new information makes it harder to recall old information [58] and proactive interference , where prior learning disrupts recall of new information. Although interference can lead to forgetting, it is important to keep in mind that there are situations when old information can facilitate learning of new information.

Knowing Latin, for instance, can help an individual learn a related language such as French — this phenomenon is known as positive transfer. Stress has a significant effect on memory formation and learning. In response to stressful situations, the brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters ex. Behavioural research on animals shows that chronic stress produces adrenal hormones which impact the hippocampal structure in the brains of rats. Wolf demonstrates how learning under stress also decreases memory recall in humans. Those randomly assigned to the stress test group had a hand immersed in ice cold water the reputable SECPT or 'Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test' for up to three minutes, while being monitored and videotaped.

Both the stress and control groups were then presented with 32 words to memorize. Twenty-four hours later, both groups were tested to see how many words they could remember free recall as well as how many they could recognize from a larger list of words recognition performance. The researchers suggest that stress experienced during learning distracts people by diverting their attention during the memory encoding process.

However, memory performance can be enhanced when material is linked to the learning context, even when learning occurs under stress. A separate study by cognitive psychologists Schwabe and Wolf shows that when retention testing is done in a context similar to or congruent with the original learning task i. The room in which the experiment took place was infused with the scent of vanilla, as odour is a strong cue for memory. Retention testing took place the following day, either in the same room with the vanilla scent again present, or in a different room without the fragrance.

The memory performance of subjects who experienced stress during the object-location task decreased significantly when they were tested in an unfamiliar room without the vanilla scent an incongruent context ; however, the memory performance of stressed subjects showed no impairment when they were tested in the original room with the vanilla scent a congruent context.

All participants in the experiment, both stressed and unstressed, performed faster when the learning and retrieval contexts were similar. This research on the effects of stress on memory may have practical implications for education, for eyewitness testimony and for psychotherapy: Stressful life experiences may be a cause of memory loss as a person ages. Glucocorticoids that are released during stress, damage neurons that are located in the hippocampal region of the brain. Therefore, the more stressful situations that someone encounters, the more susceptible they are to memory loss later on.

The CA1 neurons found in the hippocampus are destroyed due to glucocorticoids decreasing the release of glucose and the reuptake of glutamate. This high level of extracellular glutamate allows calcium to enter NMDA receptors which in return kills neurons. Stressful life experiences can also cause repression of memories where a person moves an unbearable memory to the unconscious mind. The more long term the exposure to stress is, the more impact it may have.

However, short term exposure to stress also causes impairment in memory by interfering with the function of the hippocampus. Research shows that subjects placed in a stressful situation for a short amount of time still have blood glucocorticoid levels that have increased drastically when measured after the exposure is completed. When subjects are asked to complete a learning task after short term exposure they often have difficulties. Prenatal stress also hinders the ability to learn and memorize by disrupting the development of the hippocampus and can lead to unestablished long term potentiation in the offspring of severely stressed parents.

Although the stress is applied prenatally, the offspring show increased levels of glucocorticoids when they are subjected to stress later on in life. Making memories occurs through a three-step process, which can be enhanced by sleep. The three steps are as follows:. Sleep affects memory consolidation. During sleep, the neural connections in the brain are strengthened. This enhances the brain's abilities to stabilize and retain memories. There have been several studies which show that sleep improves the retention of memory, as memories are enhanced through active consolidation.

System consolidation takes place during slow-wave sleep SWS. It also implicates that qualitative changes are made to the memories when they are transferred to long-term store during sleep. During sleep, the hippocampus replays the events of the day for the neocortex. The neocortex then reviews and processes memories, which moves them into long-term memory. When one does not get enough sleep it makes it more difficult to learn as these neural connections are not as strong, resulting in a lower retention rate of memories.

Sleep deprivation makes it harder to focus, resulting in inefficient learning. One of the primary functions of sleep is thought to be the improvement of the consolidation of information, as several studies have demonstrated that memory depends on getting sufficient sleep between training and test.

Although people often think that memory operates like recording equipment, it is not the case. The molecular mechanisms underlying the induction and maintenance of memory are very dynamic and comprise distinct phases covering a time window from seconds to even a lifetime. Since the future is not an exact repetition of the past, simulation of future episodes requires a complex system that can draw on the past in a manner that flexibly extracts and recombines elements of previous experiences — a constructive rather than a reproductive system.

To illustrate, consider a classic study conducted by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer [69] in which people were instructed to watch a film of a traffic accident and then asked about what they saw. The researchers found that the people who were asked, "How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other? There was no broken glass depicted in the film.

Thus, the wording of the questions distorted viewers' memories of the event. Importantly, the wording of the question led people to construct different memories of the event — those who were asked the question with smashed recalled a more serious car accident than they had actually seen. The findings of this experiment were replicated around the world, and researchers consistently demonstrated that when people were provided with misleading information they tended to misremember, a phenomenon known as the misinformation effect.

Research has revealed that asking individuals to repeatedly imagine actions that they have never performed or events that they have never experienced could result in false memories. For instance, Goff and Roediger [71] asked participants to imagine that they performed an act e. Findings revealed that those participants who repeatedly imagined performing such an act were more likely to think that they had actually performed that act during the first session of the experiment. Similarly, Garry and her colleagues [72] asked college students to report how certain they were that they experienced a number of events as children e.

The researchers found that one-fourth of the students asked to imagine the four events reported that they had actually experienced such events as children. That is, when asked to imagine the events they were more confident that they experienced the events. Research reported in revealed that it is possible to artificially stimulate prior memories and artificially implant false memories in mice. Using optogenetics , a team of RIKEN-MIT scientists caused the mice to incorrectly associate a benign environment with a prior unpleasant experience from different surroundings.

Some scientists believe that the study may have implications in studying false memory formation in humans, and in treating PTSD and schizophrenia. A UCLA research study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that people can improve cognitive function and brain efficiency through simple lifestyle changes such as incorporating memory exercises, healthy eating , physical fitness and stress reduction into their daily lives. This study examined 17 subjects, average age 53 with normal memory performance. Eight subjects were asked to follow a "brain healthy" diet, relaxation, physical, and mental exercise brain teasers and verbal memory training techniques.

After 14 days, they showed greater word fluency not memory compared to their baseline performance. No long-term follow-up was conducted; it is therefore unclear if this intervention has lasting effects on memory. There are a loosely associated group of mnemonic principles and techniques that can be used to vastly improve memory known as the art of memory. The International Longevity Center released in a report [76] which includes in pages 14—16 recommendations for keeping the mind in good functionality until advanced age.

Some of the recommendations are to stay intellectually active through learning, training or reading, to keep physically active so to promote blood circulation to the brain, to socialize, to reduce stress, to keep sleep time regular, to avoid depression or emotional instability and to observe good nutrition. Memorization is a method of learning that allows an individual to recall information verbatim.

Rote learning is the method most often used. Methods of memorizing things have been the subject of much discussion over the years with some writers, such as Cosmos Rossellius using visual alphabets. The spacing effect shows that an individual is more likely to remember a list of items when rehearsal is spaced over an extended period of time. In contrast to this is cramming: Also relevant is the Zeigarnik effect which states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

The so-called Method of loci uses spatial memory to memorize non-spatial information. Plants lack a specialized organ devoted to memory retention, and so plant memory has been a controversial topic in recent years. New advances in the field have identified the presence of neurotransmitters in plants, adding to the hypothesis that plants are capable of remembering. One of the most well-studied plants to show rudimentary memory is the Venus flytrap.

Native to the subtropical wetlands of the eastern United States, Venus Fly Traps have evolved the ability to obtain meat for sustenance, likely due to the lack of nitrogen in the soil. On each lobe, three triggers hairs await stimulation. In order to maximize the benefit to cost ratio, the plant enables a rudimentary form of memory in which two trigger hairs must be stimulated within 30 seconds in order to result in trap closure.

The time lapse between trigger hair stimulations suggests that the plant can remember an initial stimulus long enough for a second stimulus to initiate trap closure.

Memory Distortion for Traumatic Events: The Role of Mental Imagery

This memory isn't encoded in a brain, as plants lack this specialized organ. Rather, information is stored in the form of cytoplasmic calcium levels. The first trigger causes a subthreshold cytoplasmic calcium influx. The latter calcium rise superimposes on the initial one, creating an action potential that passes threshold, resulting in trap closure. This experiment gave evidence to demonstrate that the electrical threshold, not necessarily the number of trigger hair stimulations, was the contributing factor in Venus Fly Trap memory.

It has been shown that trap closure can be blocked using uncouplers and inhibitors of voltage-gated channels. The field of plant neurobiology has gained a large amount of interest over the past decade, leading to an influx of research regarding plant memory. Although the Venus flytrap is one of the more highly studied, many other plants exhibit the capacity to remember, including the Mimosa pudica through an experiment conducted by Monica Gagliano and colleagues in From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

This article is about human memory. For other uses, see Memory disambiguation. Brain regions Clinical neuropsychology Cognitive neuropsychology Cognitive neuroscience Dementia Human brain Neuroanatomy Neurophysiology Neuropsychological assessment Neuropsychological rehabilitation Traumatic brain injury.

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