diane_vera (diane_vera) wrote,

Recovered memories -- true vs. false?

In a comment thread on Talk To Action, I got into an interesting discussion about "recovered memories" -- the very idea of which has been the focus of lots of controversy among psychologists and psychotherapists. Is it possible for people to repress, more-or-less completely, their memory of a traumatic event, and then to recover it later? The 1980-1995 "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) scare was fed, to a large degree, by "recovered memories" -- in many cases "recovered" via the "hypnotic regression" that was faddish back in the 1970's and 1980's.

Most of the writings I've read on the topic of traumatic "recovered memories" have had an all-or-nothing attitude: Either they were inclined to trust all (or at least most) "recovered memories" of trauma, or they were inclined to distrust all of them. Until just the past few days, I don't recall ever reading any intermediate stances except by a few of the people who endorse truly wacky SRA claims. And I never encountered anyone who provided any useful, down-to-earth advice on how to distinguish between probably-true and probably-false recovered memories of trauma. Admittedly I haven't been staying up-to-date on the relevant academic literature, so it's quite possible I missed something important.

In my Talk To Action post "Exorcism and religious intolerance," Tue Feb 01, 2011, I refereed briefly to the SRA scare and "recovered memories." Someone with the name OldChaosoftheSun replied with a comment arguing that recovered memories are indeed a real phenomenon -- and so too did ArchaeoBob, whom I am inclined to respect, here and here.

In my reply to ArchaeoBob, I said I would be "interested to learn more about the circumstances under which a recovered memory is likely to be true." ArchaeoBob replied with what seems to me -- at first glance, at least -- to be a very credible, down-to-earth list of differences between probably-true and probably-false recovered memories. Of course, I'm no expert on memory and not really in a good position to evaluate the validity of his list, but at least it's not prima facie wacky in my opinion.
Tags: against theocracy, sra

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