“Recovered” Memories

Feldman-Summers, S., & Pope, K. S. (1994). The experience of “forgetting” childhood abuse: A national survey of psychologists. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 636-639.

Abstract: “A national sample of psychologists were asked whether they had been abused as children and, if so, whether they had ever forgotten some or all of the abuse. Almost a quarter of the sample (23.9%) reported childhood abuse, and of those, approximately 40% reported a period of forgetting some or all of the abuse. The major findings were that (a) both sexual and nonsexual abuse were subject to periods of forgetting; (b) the most frequently reported factor related to recall was being in therapy; (c) approximately one half of those who reported forgetting also reported corroboration of the abuse; and (d) reported forgetting was not related to gender or age of the respondent but was related to severity of the abuse.”

This passes for scientific research? It is taken from http://www.jimhopper.com/memory/#bc, a website dedicated to “proving” that memories of traumatic childhood experiences can be recovered.

If you believe that there is scientific evidence in support of “recovered” memories, you ought to read this paragraph very carefully. This is what is passed off as “scientific” proof. A poll of psychologists asking them if they had been abused as children and then if they had repressed the memories of it and then if they felt it was corroborated.

In other words, can you “remember” being abused as a child, and did you lose the memory of it. In other words:

Do you have faith in God above?
If the bible tells you so.

Now, the writers of this hoax are dimly aware of the issue here, so they ask how many of these psychologists who remember that they didn’t remember they were sexually abused “recovered” their memories in therapy? And how many now claim that they can corroborate the abuse? This article doesn’t detail the nature of “corroboration”, but we can imagine. Well, we can, but we shouldn’t, I suppose. By “corroboration”, they could mean… well, what could they mean? Other than some kind of confirmation from a non-witness– since the abuse is almost never witnessed– or by someone else who was also abused by the same person, which is not corroboration by any definition of the word. (In fact, in how many cases did they hear the alleged corroboration first, and perhaps were moved to “remember” that they too were victims?)

There is no record of anyone producing any kind of physical evidence in support of the recovered memories. There is a lot of evidence of “recovered” memories that were demonstrably false. There is a lot of evidence that the human mind is exceptionally creative when it comes to memory, combining them or altering them in amazing ways.  There is lots of evidence that human memory is subject to suggestion and manipulation.

Partisans would argue that it’s because of the nature of the crime– there never is physical evidence. There are just these long-suppressed memories.

The fact that 56% of these people “recovered” their memories in therapy, of course, is highly suspect. First of all, we’re dealing with psychologists here. These are people who already have faith, presumably, in psychology, and the various beliefs, structures, and assumptions common to the practice of psychology. A keystone of Freud’s theories is “repression”: memories of traumatic events are buried somewhere in our psyche but can be “recovered” through psychoanalysis.  Memories are like a tape recording: once found, they are an accurate record of what happened.  More recent research shows that this is patently false.

In other words, that there is such a thing as an unconscious, and a location for things that are repressed, and such a thing as repression. Maybe they all read “Sybil”, which, for a time, was the bible of hack psychology.

It’s like asking people if they believe in angels. You have to choose only people who also believe in the bible. If they say yes, you proceed to ask them if they have ever met one. I’ll bet 25% of that group have, in one form or another. An angel, for example, saved me from a serious car accident by waking me up when I was falling asleep on the freeway. That may sound strange to you, but a lot of people out there believe that such things really happen.

So a lot of psychologists, in therapy– with a psychologist, presumably– are led to “recover” memories of abuse which, apparently, they had repressed. So how do they know these memories are valid?

The study looks at corroboration, which consists of:

  • people who knew about the abuse confirmed it
  • someone else reported abuse by the same perpetrator (if you know someone who was robbed, does that mean that the robber probably robbed you as well?)
  • The abusers acknowledged some or all of the abuse. (I’d like to hear that conversation.)

None of this is really scientific by any stretch of the imagination. You just have to have a lot of questions about a person who “knew” about the abuse confirming it. How did they know? What did they really know? What kind of conversation led to this disclosure?

On to another facet:

Just as technology evolves, social consciousness and hence the definition of academic freedom is evolving. And this is coming about as people, particularly members of less powerful groups, speak. Dr. Jill Vickers, a Professor at Carlton, for example, recently “urged CAUT to come to grips with and to understand how the principles of academic freedom and institutional authority, ideas that legitimize the university, can also be used to perpetuate the status quo and sustain those who are more powerful and privileged – in most cases white males” (Riseborough, 1993). Along similar lines, UNESCO is currently reviewing an international proposal regarding academic freedom (International Conference of University Teachers’ Organizations, 1993). The text of this proposal makes it clear that there can be no academic freedom without social responsibility.

by Connie M. Kristiansen, Carleton University, Newsletter of the Section on Women and Psychology, Vol 20, No 2, page 7-16.

Read that chilling line again: “There can be no academic freedom without social responsibility”. Sound like an old communist plot? It’s a feminist plot, however, aimed at those would deny that memories can be repressed and then “recovered”.  Who believe that there is such a thing as a false allegation.

It’s idiotic, to be blunt. Free inquiry should be suppressed in the name of a greater social good, which is, to be able to expose the institutionalized oppression of women that is so pervasive and encompassing that women are justified in suppressing freedom of speech in order to fight it.

If I have to explain why that’s a bad idea, I’d have to admit that our society is hopelessly ignorant about the fundamental basis of freedom, democracy, and human rights. It probably is.

And if radical feminists are so stupid as to believe that this very weapon, the suppression of free and open discussion and deliberation, is not sure to be turned and used against them in the future, as it has been in the past, then they are greater fools than even I imagined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *