Scientists and practitioners don't see eye to eye on repressed memory

December 13, 2013

Skepticism about repressed traumatic memories has increased over time, but new research shows that psychology researchers and practitioners still tend to hold different beliefs about whether such memories occur and whether they can be accurately retrieved.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Whether repressed memories are accurate or not, and whether they should be pursued by therapists, or not, is probably the single most practically important topic in since the days of Freud and the hypnotists who came before him," says researcher Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine.

According to Patihis, the new findings suggest that there remains a "serious split in the field of psychology in beliefs about how works."

Controversy surrounding repressed memory – sometimes referred to as the "memory wars" – came to a head in the 1990s. While some believed that traumatic memories could be repressed for years only to be recovered later in therapy, others questioned the concept, noting that lack of in support of repressed memory.

Spurred by impressions that both researchers and clinicians believed the debate had been resolved, Patihis and colleagues wanted to investigate whether and how beliefs about memory may have changed since the 1990s.

To find out, the researchers recruited practicing clinicians and psychotherapists, research psychologists, and alternative therapists to complete an .

The data revealed that mainstream psychotherapists and clinical psychologists are more skeptical about recovered memories and more cautious about trying to recover repressed memories than they were 20 years ago.

But, there was still a clear gap between clinicians and researchers: Roughly 60-80% of clinicians, psychoanalysts, and therapists surveyed agreed to some extent that traumatic memories are often repressed and can be retrieved in therapy, compared to less than 30% of research-oriented psychologists.

Additional data revealed that belief in repressed memory is still prevalent among the general public.

This marked divide, with researchers on the one hand and clinicians and the public on the other, is worrying because of the implications it has for clinical practice and for the judicial system:

"Therapists who believe that can be repressed may develop treatment plans that differ dramatically from those developed by practitioners who do not hold this belief. In the courtroom, beliefs about memory often determine whether repressed-memory testimony is admitted into evidence," the researchers write.

Patihis and colleagues propose that tailoring the education of the next generation of researchers and practitioners may be an effective way to narrow the gap.

"Broader dissemination of basic and applied memory research within graduate programs in clinical psychology and training programs in other mental-health professions may be a helpful step, although research will be needed to determine the effectiveness of this approach for narrowing the research-practice gap," the researchers conclude.

Explore further: People who don't forget can still be tricked with false memories

More information: "Are the "Memory Wars" Over? A Scientist-Practitioner Gap in Beliefs About Repressed Memory" Psychological Science, 2013.

Related Stories

People who don't forget can still be tricked with false memories

November 19, 2013
"Time is the thief of memory," wrote Stephen King in one of his many books. For some people, however, that is not true. They are gifted with what scientists call highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), which means ...

New research shows that we control our forgetfulness

July 5, 2011
Have you heard the saying "You only remember what you want to remember"? Now there is evidence that it may well be correct. New research from Lund University in Sweden shows that we can train ourselves to forget things.

Researchers discover key to the reduction of forgetting

December 12, 2013
A team of neuroscientists has found a key to the reduction of forgetting. Their findings, which appeared in the journal Neuron, show that the better the coordination between two regions of the brain, the less likely we are ...

National survey reveals widespread mistaken beliefs about memory

August 4, 2011
A new survey reveals that many people in the U.S. – in some cases a substantial majority – think that memory is more powerful, objective and reliable than it actually is. Their ideas are at odds with decades of ...

Recommended for you

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

Neuroticism may postpone death for some

July 24, 2017
Data from a longitudinal study of over 500,000 people in the United Kingdom indicate that having higher levels of the personality trait neuroticism may reduce the risk of death for individuals who report being in fair or ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

katesisco
not rated yet Dec 13, 2013
Well, the debate may go on among the college educated but among the victims of versed and other anesthesia drugs we have no doubt that our memories are extracted and used to promote their financial betterment. When we reveal what was done to us, it is belittled or justified as 'for the greater good.' Hogwash.
Argiod
not rated yet Dec 13, 2013
Personally, I don't repress memories; I simply don't wish to talk about some of them.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.