Week 5: Memory Distortions

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Week 5: Memory Distortions

Week 5: Memory Distortions

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Week 5: Memory Distortions

A brief description of factors that might influence and create distortions of memory. Then explain how one of those factors might create a memory distortion. Provide an example to support your response. Finally, explain three consequences of memory distortion in the context of eyewitness testimony. Justify your response using the Learning Resources and current literature.

17 Feb 2006 9:54 AR XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24) P1: OKZ 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.2.022305.095315 ANRV271-CP02-18.tex Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006. 2:469–98 doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.2.022305.095315 c 2006 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved Copyright First published online as a Review in Advance on January 16, 2006 RECOVERED MEMORIES Elizabeth F. Loftus Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006.2:469-498. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by MEDICAL CENTER LIBRARY on 04/03/06. For personal use only. Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine, California 92697-7085; email: [email protected] Deborah Davis Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557; email: [email protected] Key Words repression, influence, false memory, therapy, childhood sexual abuse ■ Abstract The issues surrounding repressed, recovered, or false memories have sparked one of the greatest controversies in the mental health profession in the twentieth century. We review evidence concerning the existence of the repression and recovery of autobiographical memories of traumatic events and research on the development of false autobiographical memories, how specific therapeutic procedures can lead to false memories, and individual vulnerability to resisting false memories. These findings have implications for therapeutic practice, for forensic practice, for research and training in psychology, and for public policy. CONTENTS INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . EVIDENCE FOR REPRESSION AND RECOVERY OF MEMORIES OF TRAUMA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Retrospective Studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Prospective Studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Case Histories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF FALSE MEMORIES OF ABUSE . . . . . . False Memories of Real-Life Trauma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Experiences of the “Retractors” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Laboratory Research on the Malleability of Autobiographical Memory . . . . . . . . . Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . THERAPEUTIC PROCESS AND FALSE MEMORIES OF ABUSE . . . . . . . . . . . . A Priori Assumptions Regarding Abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Confirmation Biases and the Dangers of Specific Hypothesis Testing . . . . . . . . . . Plausibility-Enhancing “Evidence” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adopting and Confirming the Belief in Abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . THERAPY AND SOCIAL INFLUENCE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Individual Vulnerability to False Memories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1548-5943/06/0427-0469$20.00 470 471 471 473 473 476 476 477 478 480 480 480 481 482 483 489 489 469 17 Feb 2006 9:54 470 AR ANRV271-CP02-18.tex LOFTUS XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24) P1: OKZ DAVIS Ability to Resist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 490 Motivation to Resist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 492 RECOVERED MEMORIES AND PUBLIC POLICY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 492 Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006.2:469-498. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by MEDICAL CENTER LIBRARY on 04/03/06. For personal use only. INTRODUCTION On November 28, 1989, George Franklin was arrested for the murder of his daughter’s childhood playmate—a murder that had allegedly occurred almost 20 years earlier (see MacLean 1993). The evidence against him? Nothing but the recently “recovered” memory of his now 29-year-old daughter, who claimed to have repressed her memory of having witnessed the murder two decades ago. The Franklin case was far from unique. Parents were being accused and convicted of other terrible crimes, primarily childhood sexual abuse, sometimes involving years of horrific abuse that was allegedly repressed in memory. Typically, these accusations arose on the basis of memories that adult children had “recovered” during psychotherapy. Some mental health professionals were even promoting the notion that numerous victims had experienced horrific satanic ritual abuse about which they were harboring repressed memories (Rogers 1992, Wright 1994). But scholarly analyses (e.g., Holmes 1990) were revealing that there was little in the way of support for widespread assumptions among therapists and in popular folklore that traumatic memories are particularly likely, relative to nontraumatic memories, to be “repressed” and later recovered intact through techniques such as hypnosis, guided imagery, and other suggestive therapeutic procedures. Analyses of how false memories could develop in the therapeutic setting soon followed (e.g., Lindsay & Read 1994, Loftus 1993, Loftus & Ketcham 1994, Ofshe & Watters 1994, Tavris 1993) and sparked a heated response from the therapeutic community (e.g., Alpert 1995, Terr 1994, Whitfield 1995) and alleged survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters that marked the beginning of a controversy that has been among the most vitriolic and emotionally charged in the history of psychology. This debate, known as the memory wars, has been referred to as “psychology’s most fiercely contested ground” (Crews 2004). But underlying a very practical side of the debate—centered on real-life concerns for victims of either true abuse or of false allegations—is another debate surrounding the very nature of memory and how it works: whether memory might work differently for traumatic versus more ordinary events, and whether it might be distorted or confabulated as a result of therapeutic procedures commonly employed by some therapists. On the one side were primarily practicing therapists who argued that there was and still is overwhelming support for the psychoanalytic notion of repressed memories (sometimes referred to by other terms, such as dissociated memory or traumatic amnesia; e.g., Brown et al. 1998). Traumatic memories such as those of sexual abuse were viewed as fundamentally different from more ordinary memories because they tend to be encoded in ways that render them inaccessible in everyday life. Moreover, suggestive memory recovery procedures and therapeutic 17 Feb 2006 9:54 AR ANRV271-CP02-18.tex XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24) P1: OKZ Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006.2:469-498. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by MEDICAL CENTER LIBRARY on 04/03/06. For personal use only. RECOVERED MEMORIES 471 interactions were viewed as necessary to break through the barrier of repression and bring memories into conscious awareness, which was in turn viewed as necessary for the patient to improve. Therapists who supported such a position tended to view the incidence of “repressed” memories of abuse as relatively high, and therefore the frequency with which such memories were “recovered” in therapy as unsurprising. Many such therapists also viewed even extremely bizarre claims such as satanic ritual abuse among children and adults as credible. And finally, they argued that false memories for such events were particularly unlikely. On the other side were the clinical, social, and cognitive researchers who had long studied the fallibility and suggestibility of memory. Beginning with the assumption that, if anything, memories for trauma are stronger than are those for ordinary events, these researchers viewed traumatic experiences as unlikely to be repressed and as subject to the same sources of distortion and confabulation as memories of other kinds of experiences. These scholars and scientists found no compelling evidence that people massively repress sexual abuse and then reliably recover the memories later (see Piper at al. 2000, Pope et al. 1998). In one survey, 79% said that there was no support for the statement, “Traumatic experiences can be repressed for many years and then recovered,” or that the data were inconclusive (Kassin et al. 2001). Moreover, the repression skeptics worried that suggestive procedures used by some psychotherapists to try to extract allegedly buried trauma memories (such as direct suggestion that the patient was probably abused, guided imagery, hypnosis, age regression, or dream analysis) could lead to false memories—even such seemingly improbable false memories as those of satanic abuse. In the following sections, we review evidence concerning the existence of recovered memories. We focus upon the controversial sense of this term, which involves memories of abuse that are “recovered” during suggestive psychotherapy. We also review evidence for the existence and mechanisms of creation of false memories and discuss how these processes apply in therapy. EVIDENCE FOR REPRESSION AND RECOVERY OF MEMORIES OF TRAUMA Most fundamentally, to demonstrate that memories can be repressed and later recovered, at least three things must be verified: (a) that the abuse did take place, (b) that it was forgotten and inaccessible for some period of time, and (c) that it was later remembered (see, e.g., Pope & Hudson 1995). Studies used to support repression generally do not meet these criteria. Retrospective Studies In a retrospective memory study, individuals are interviewed today and asked whether they were abused in the past as well as other questions assessing the 17 Feb 2006 9:54 Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006.2:469-498. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by MEDICAL CENTER LIBRARY on 04/03/06. For personal use only. 472 AR ANRV271-CP02-18.tex LOFTUS XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24) P1: OKZ DAVIS continuity of memory over time, such as whether they ever forgot the abuse. In scores of such studies, some individuals will claim that they were abused and that there was a time when they forgot the abuse (see, e.g., Briere & Conte 1993, Melchert 1996), but the inherent common flaws of these studies render them virtually uninterpretable (see, e.g., Brenneis 2000; Kihlstrom 1998, 2005; McNally 2003b, 2004). Perhaps the most fundamental flaws are lack of validation of the abuse and lack of assessment of the conditions under which the “memory” was retrieved. Though some studies have attempted to validate reported abuse, criteria for validation are often suspect, relying, for example, on participant reports that they had verified the abuse (see, e.g., Herman & Schatzow 1987) or the outcome of legal proceedings (see, e.g., Burgess et al. 1995). Often, researchers fail to report rates of verification separately for those who always remembered the abuse versus those who report periods of amnesia or repression, leaving open the question of the rate of verified “recovered” memories (see, e.g., van der Kolk & Fisler 1995). Still others mix selfreports of verification from patients with apparently more objective verification by police or therapists, but without clear delineation of the frequency of each (see, e.g., Kluft 1997). Nonetheless, although few instances of abuse have been conclusively verified, a number of studies have reported instances of apparent verification of once unrecalled abuse (see McNally 2003b). Other studies have not attempted to validate the abuse at all, and have used persons whose memories were recovered in suspect circumstances without comparison to those whose memories were recovered more naturally. Incredibly, one of the most influential studies of this type recruited subjects through a national network of therapists specializing in treatment of abuse survivors (Briere & Conte 1993). Of those claiming past abuse, 59% reported experiencing a time when they could not remember the abuse. Given a variety of methodological issues (see McNally 2003a), the claim of past nonmemory is uninterpretable. In other studies, patients claiming recovered memory of abuse appear to have undergone questionable procedures such as hypnosis or guided imagination. Indeed, fully two thirds of those reporting periods of amnesia in Roe & Schwartz’s (1996) study reported first recovery of the memory during hypnosis. In another study, participants who never remembered abuse but who had joined incest survivor groups to help them remember were classified as having repressed abuse (Herman & Schatzow 1987). A second general set of concerns surrounds the interpretation of forgetting and recovery. Episodes of abuse may not be experienced as traumatic or even labeled as abuse at the time, and hence forgetting cannot be regarded as traumatic repression. Indeed, one study found that women who reported having forgotten their abuse rated it as having been less upsetting when it occurred than those who had never forgotten (Loftus et al. 1994). In other studies, participants’ own interpretations of failures to remember abuse have included failure to understand the experience as abusive until later and deliberate attempts not to think about it. Many reported that they could have remembered if they tried or if they had been reminded or 17 Feb 2006 9:54 AR ANRV271-CP02-18.tex XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24) P1: OKZ Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006.2:469-498. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by MEDICAL CENTER LIBRARY on 04/03/06. For personal use only. RECOVERED MEMORIES 473 asked about it. However, since all such reports are either guesses about whether the person could remember or subjective assessments of reasons for failure to remember rather than responses to actual attempts to remember, they are difficult to interpret. Further, it is well documented that one can fail to remember that one previously remembered the abuse. For some apparently verified instances of recovered memories, it has been shown that the person actually did remember during the alleged amnestic period, but later forgot previously remembering and talking about the abuse to others (see Brenneis 2000). In one study, women who claimed that they had undergone periods of forgetting their abuse said later in the same interview that they had never forgotten (Fivush & Edwards 2004). Finally, studies of memory for real-life traumata of all sorts suffer from additional problems such as misinterpreting general difficulty with everyday memory as reflecting repression of a specific traumatic event or failure to rule out injury and organic causes of amnesia. Prospective Studies In a prospective memory study, individuals with a record of abuse or other trauma in the past are later interviewed to see what they remember. One well-known study (Williams 1994) involved women who had reported sexual abuse that had occurred when they were aged 10 months to 12 years old. In interviews some l7 years later, 38% did not mention the abuse incident. These results are frequently used to support the notion that a significant percentage of women repress their memories of sexual abuse. But numerous critics have questioned this interpretation (Kihlstrom 2005, Loftus et al. 1994, McNally 2003b), noting the myriad reasons other than repression that could cause participants to fail to mention the abuse. Some had experiences as children when they were so young (under age 2) that childhood amnesia would lead us to expect no memory for the abuse. Even if they did remember it, some may have simply not wanted to report the abuse to an interviewer for reasons such as embarrassment or lack of rapport (Della Femina et al. 1990). Moreover, by design, participants were not asked directly about the abuse, and had they been asked, may well have been able to report it. Finally, normal forgetting occurs for all sorts of events, even ones that would have been rather upsetting or traumatic. Nearly a decade later, Goodman et al. (2003) published a conceptual “replication” of the Williams study. Participants had been involved in a study of the effects of criminal prosecutions on sex abuse victims when they were ages 3–l7 and were interviewed by the authors three times 10–16 years later. By the final interview, only 8% did not report the abuse. Although their study has been criticized for using a “prosecution” sample, its results do cast doubt on the claim that large percentages of women have repressed their memories and have no awareness of real past abuse. Case Histories A third source of evidence offered to support the claim of massive repression is anecdotal cases (sometimes called “anecdata”), where a therapist writes an account 17 Feb 2006 9:54 Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 2006.2:469-498. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by MEDICAL CENTER LIBRARY on 04/03/06. For personal use only. 474 AR ANRV271-CP02-18.tex LOFTUS XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24) P1: OKZ DAVIS of a case history along with an interpretation that the patient has repressed and later reliably recovered the memory. Other reports involve a set of case histories analyzed and possibly “verified” by the researcher. But one problem with case histories is that the therapist/author is typically the only person who has access to the “data,” which are often subjective and not convincingly subjected to objective external verification. Few instances exist where the selectivity has been scrutinized, but one clear example can be found in the 1997 case history of “Jane Doe” (Corwin & Olafson 1997), who was videotaped in 1984 recounting specifics of sexual abuse allegedly committed by her mother. Eleven years later, when Jane was l7, she was videotaped again. This time, she at first did not remember the abuse, and then she did. The therapists published an account of Jane Doe’s life, her allegedly repressed/recovered memory, and the case was cited as verified (e.g., Gleaves et al. 2004). Loftus & Guyer (2002a,b) used public records and newspaper clippings and eventually located Doe’s family. From court documents and other information, they learned that the case was not even remotely a proven case of repressed memory. In fact, much newly discovered evidence cast doubt on whether abuse had occurred at all and pointed to the very real possibility that the abuse narrative had been planted in Jane’s mind by individuals who wished to remove her from her mother. This scrutinized case is a cautionary tale that raises questions about the role of case histories in medicine, science, and mental health. Case histories can be compelling, but they are bounded by the motivations and interpretations of the storyteller. Problems with motivational biases characterize many case histories involving litigated events. Claims of repression are sometimes necessary in order to file suit after delays that would normally exceed statutes of limitations. Nor can outof-court settlements be taken as proof of claims of abuse. Innocents sometimes settle to avoid legal and emotional costs and risks of litigation. Such issues limit the weight of evidence provided by allegedly “corroborated” cases of recovered memories of trauma involved in legal proceedings. Notwithstanding these problems, there are a large number of case reports, some with better verification than others. Schooler et al. (1997) give the impression that they discovered several case histories for which the necessary three-pronged evidence specified by Pope & Hudson (1995) was obtained: The abuse did occur, it was forgotten for some period of time, …Week 5: Memory Distortions

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