Evidence for genuine recovered memories

Over 20 longitudinal and retrospective studies have now found that a substantial proportion of people reporting child sexual abuse (somewhere between 20 and 60 per cent) report periods in their lives (often lasting for several years) when they could not remember that the abuse had taken place. (89,) Although the rates vary between studies, broadly similar findings have been obtained by clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and cognitive psychologists in both clinical and community samples. As has been pointed out by critics of these studies, this evidence supports the forgetting of trauma, but does not yet have much to say about the mechanism (for example 'repression') by which it occurs. Thus it would be true to say that while there is evidence for forgetting, there is little evidence for 'repression' as such.

Three main factors support the argument that these apparently forgotten memories are not necessarily false.

1. Surveys have also found recovered memories of other traumatic experiences such as witnessing accidents, experiencing medical procedures, physical abuse in childhood, and combat or war exposure including events connected to the Holocaust. (19 It is unclear how these could have been brought about by suggestion.

2. A number of studies have found that apparent recovered memories occur prior to any therapy, and in the absence of any obvious prolonged suggestive influence.(l!l2) Again, it is unclear how these could have been brought about by suggestion.

3. Surveys of psychologists/12' therapists,(10) and patients reporting childhood trauma(l3) found that approximately 40 per cent of those with apparent recovered memories reported corroborative evidence for the content of the memories, such as abusers' confessions, testimony from other victims, and court records. Although the quality of this corroboration has been criticized, it seems unlikely that all these cases can be summarily dismissed. There are also substantial numbers of case studies reporting more detailed corroborative evidence for apparent recovered memories, some of this evidence of reasonably high quality. (14,15, and 16)

The quality of the research evidence supporting genuine recovered memories is mixed, and almost all the studies can be argued to have some flaws, but taken together the evidence for genuine memories of major traumatic events is far more extensive than the evidence for false memories of such events. Moreover, these observations need not, as has sometimes been claimed, contradict what we know about memory. Cognitive psychology recognizes that ordinary memory relies as much for its efficiency on the ability to inhibit unwanted material as on the ability to gain rapid access to relevant material. Experimental studies clearly demonstrate the inhibition of memory retrieval and the existence of a subgroup of individuals with poor memories for negative experiences. (,:!.Z>

But even if forgetting of single traumas occurs, it is far from clear how repeated traumas could be completely forgotten. A hypothesis put forward by trauma researchers is that children learn to 'dissociate' during the abuse, that is to say they are in an altered mental state in which they are less aware of the abuse and of any associated fear and pain. In this state they may, for example, report feeling numb, feeling as though they are observing events from outside their own body, or feeling that they have escaped into an alternative private world. This altered state may make the abuse easier to forget.

This hypothesis has received indirect support from the accounts of adults and children with known traumatic experiences, and from neurobiological research on the effects of extreme stress on memory. Whereas high levels of arousal often make events more difficult to forget, it has been argued by several well-known neuroscientists that extraordinarily high levels of catecholamines or other neuropeptides at the time of the trauma, perhaps in combination with a failure to release sufficient cortisol, may produce amnesia/1.. 1?) Several studies have demonstrated that the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory, is smaller in traumatized subjects.(29 Changes in hippocampal volume have also been found in stressed animals, and these potentially reversible anatomical effects may have important implications for memory functioning under stress. Again, much of the evidence is indirect and not yet compelling. The intimate neuroanatomical connections between brain circuits involved in emotion and those involved in memory do, however, provide a good reason for believing that memory may not behave in the same way under conditions of extreme real-world stress as it does in ordinary laboratory experiments.

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Do Not Panic

Do Not Panic

This guide Don't Panic has tips and additional information on what you should do when you are experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. With so much going on in the world today with taking care of your family, working full time, dealing with office politics and other things, you could experience a serious meltdown. All of these things could at one point cause you to stress out and snap.

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