Date: 19 Nov 93 15:16:06 GMT [follows article 15610 in sci.psychology, 56949 in sci.skepti

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From: (Todd I. Stark) Date: 19 Nov 93 15:16:06 GMT Organization: Digital Equipment Corporation Message-ID: <> Newsgroups: sci.skeptic,sci.psychology [follows article 15610 in sci.psychology, 56949 in sci.skeptic] Subject: re: Sci.Skeptic FAQ review request Here is my first attempt to come up with a FAQ on the subject of "false memory," per Paul's request. (I didn't try to address the reliability of memory in general here, it seemed like a little too broad a topic for me to attempt). =========================================================================== --------------------------------------- 10.1 What is "False Memory Syndrome ?" --------------------------------------- There is currently no such standard medical diagnosis in the U.S. as "False Memory Syndrome." "False Memory Syndrome" is a term coined by a support and advocacy group based in Philadelphia, Pa. in the U.S., the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Inc., to publicize and dramatize the plight of parents, alleged pedophiles, and other adults who feel they have been unjustly accused of child abuse. The initial membership of the FMS consisted of 202 families who had contacted psychologist Ralph Underwager, a frequent advocate for accused sex offenders. The current executive director is Pamela Freyd, PhD.. The basic premise of the FMS idea is that : under conditions of therapy, a child's (person's) recollection of past events may be distorted, even radically, and that convincing evidence of of psychological trauma and detailed false testimony against an innocent person may be _manufactured_ by the (unwitting) facilitation of a therapist, who is motivated to find abuse where there is none. Underwager's work has been criticized on the same basis as criticism of the FMS itself, that he appears biased against children alleging sexual abuse (Salter). This is of course met by the symmetric claim from FMS advocates and others, that some percentage of therapists seem to specialize in finding abuse, and are unfairly biased against the accused adults. Various examples of popular psychology literature are often quoted to support (and sometimes symbollize) this contention. _The_Courage_to_Heal_ is an example of this genre, suggesting that forgotten abuse is so likely that any woman who has any suspicion at all of having been abused probably was. The issue around "False Memory" is then the degree to which the therapist may have (unwittingly or deliberately) contributed to a remembrance of serious abuse which did not occur, or may have exaggerated the incidence or severity of the abusive behavior. There seems to be sufficient evidence, both from clinical tradition and from experimental data on human memory, to establish that there is a possibility for the client of a strongly motivated therapist to be influenced by the expectations of the therapist, even to the point of forgetting or distorting important life events, or manufacturing them. (See examples in Goldstein, 1992; general comments by Loftus, 1993; and descriptions by Ofshe and Tavris cited in the references). The use of hypnosis has been particularly controversial since it involves an unusually intimate form of both verbal and non-verbal communication. In hypnosis, the client is highly motivated to respond with historical reconstructions at the request of the therapist, even if they do not have sufficient details to reconstruct past events accurately. This is related to what is called the 'response criterion problem' in experimental hypnosis research. (Klatzky and Erdely, 1985). Hypnosis also has some notoriety in this regard because of the clinical phenomenon for which Milton Erickson coined the term 'vivification,' where vividly imagined events are difficult or impossible to distinguish from ongoing sensory perceptions or from recollections, and the possibility that such a vivid imagining could be remembered as a veridical life event. Some experimental research also appears to confirm the potential for hypnotic suggestion to radically alter even the ongoing sensory perception of good hypnotic subjects (Spiegel, 1989). Canadian Psychiatrist William Sargant (see his work on political and religious conversion, Sargant, 1959) also did some classic work in which he demonstrated the therapeutic value of "abreaction," or in this case, vividly imagined 'false' events, with the help of hypnosis or sometimes ethyl ether. It is sometimes claimed that distortions introduced with the help of hypnotic suggestion can be picked up with standardized tests. A test for whether cult members had been "brainwashed" was used with some claimed success (Verdier, 1977). More recently, research into picking up stable dissociative tendencies has shown some promise. There appear to be some general groupings of traits which may correlate with unusually vivid imagery and extremely active fantasy life in some individuals (Wilson & Barber, 1983), which has been hypothesized to be related to the need to dissociate mentally in order to avoid severe anxiety. This would theoretically allow "false memory" to occur more readily in these individuals, (though it would at the same time also raise the question of what early anxiety-provoking event may have triggered the dissociation) and also provide a plausible mechanism for the claims of repressed memories. There may also be some neurological similarities (Persinger, 1992), and some common early life experiential triggers. There is no known reliable way at this time to verify whether a particular recollection was actually introduced as a so-called "false memory." The most promising research in this area seems to point to the possibility that we may someday be able to more reliably pick out the 'fantasy prone,' at least as a relative number on a scale, but this still leaves the question open as to cause and effect. Did a severe early trauma provoke the need for escape into a rich inner fantasy world, or was the remembrance of a traumatic past solely the result of a therapist taking advantage of "fantasy proneness ?" So, one of the more useful functions of an advocacy group such as the FMS is to educate the public to the possibility that even the most real seeming and vivid memories could possibly have been fabricated or exaggerated by interaction with a therapist. One of the less useful results of a group like the FMS is to cast aspersions and additional frustrating doubt on the claims of an already desperate child who is having a difficult time understanding and recovering from a traumatic experience. References : Klatzky and Erdely, 1985, "The response criterion problem in tests of hypnosis and memory," International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis , 33, 246-257. Ofshe, Richard, 1992, "Inadvertent Hypnosis During Interrogation," International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis , 11:125-155. Goldstein, Eleanor, 1992, Confabulations , Boca Raton, Fla:Social Issues Research Series Loftus, Elizabeth, June 27,1993, "You Must Remember This ... ... or do you ? How Real are Repressed Memories ?" Washington Post . Ofshe, Richard and Ethan Watters, (March, 1993), "Making Monsters," Society . Tavris, Carole, (Jan 3,1993), "Beware the Incest-Survivor Machine," N.Y. Times Book Review. Persinger MA. "Neuropsychological profiles of adults who report 'sudden remembering' of early childhood memories: implications for claims of sex abuse and alien visitation/abduction experiences." Perceptual & Motor Skills. 75(1):259-66, 1992 Aug. Wilson and Barber, "The Fantasy Prone Personality : Implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis, and parapsychological phenomena," in Imagery ,Current Theory, Research , and Application , from Wiley Press, 1983. Paul A. Verdier, "Brainwashing and the Cults, an expose on capturing the human mind," 1977, Wilshire Books. William Sargant, "Battle for the Mind, a physiology of conversion and brainwashing," 1959, N.Y.: Harper and Row John Marks, "The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate,' The CIA and Mind Control," 1979, N.Y.: New York Times Book Co. pp. 190 D. Spiegel et al, 1989, "Hypnotic alteration of somatosensory perception," American Journal of Psychiatry "A conversation with Pamela Freyd, Ph.D. Co-founder and executive director, False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Inc" by David Calof in Treating Abuse Today, Vol 3(3), 25-39 +-----------------------------------------------------------------------------+ | Todd I. Stark | | Digital Equipment Corporation (215) 542-3573 | | Philadelphia, Pa. 19152 USA | +-----------------------------------------------------------------------------+ | "There are four basic types : the cretin, the imbecile, the stupid, and the | | mad. Normality is a balanced mixture of all four." Umberto Eco | +-----------------------------------------------------------------------------+


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