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The Real Science of “Repressed Memory”: A Conversation with Professor Patihis

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Joseph Neuberger & Diana Davison

In the recent podcast episode, EP#95 | The Real Science of Repressed Memory | With Dr. Lawrence Patihis, Professor Patihis, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, shared his knowledge about how memory does and does not work. The conversation delved into the intriguing realm of repressed memories, false memories, and the resurgence of interest in this controversial topic. These are the highlights of Professor Patihis’ key insights from the discussion, shedding light on the history, science, and potential dangers in criminal cases that are associated with repressed memories.

The Rise and Fall of Repressed Memories:

The rise and fall of repressed memories stand out as a fascinating chapter in the evolving landscape of psychological discourse. Originating from Sigmund Freud’s pioneering theories, the concept posited that individuals could undergo traumatic experiences and suppress memories, only to recover them later. However, the popularity of repressed memory theory occurred during the 1980s and 1990s when therapeutic practices inadvertently fueled a surge in false memory cases. As cognitive psychologists began scrutinizing these claims, a seismic shift took place, leading to a decline in the prominence of repressed memories.

Freud’s Legacy and Repressed Memories:

According to Freud, individuals could experience trauma, suppress those memories due to their overwhelming nature, and later recall them. However, Professor Patihis challenges this idea, highlighting the lack of scientific substantiation and the influence of Freud’s clinical observations.

False Memories in the 1980s and 1990s:

Later in Episode 95 of Not On Record, the conversation explores the surge of repressed memory cases in the 1980s and 1990s and how it occurred. Therapists, influenced by the belief in repressed memories, inadvertently encouraged patients to recover memories that turned out to be false. Scientists more knowledgeable about how memory actually works caught onto the problem, leading to a decline in the popularity of repressed memories and hesitancy in the courts to trust such memories.

Dissociative Amnesia in DSM-5:

The discussion then shifts to dissociative amnesia, a term that has replaced repressed memories in some clinical settings. Professor Patihis notes its inclusion in the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, emphasizing the challenges of removing an embedded concept.

Unpacking the Lack of Evidence:

A critical point emerges as Professor Patihis emphasizes the absence of substantial evidence supporting repression as an actual phenomenon. He points to neurological and cognitive studies that consistently fail to validate the idea that trauma is intentionally forgotten and later recovered.

The Science of Memory Distortions:

Professor Patihis describes what memory distortions are, explaining the role in false memory studies. These studies reveal how suggestions and imagination can lead to the creation of entirely false memories, further challenging the validity of repressed memories.

Real Trauma vs. False Memories:

To illustrate the distinction between real trauma and false memories, Professor Patihis references studies with Holocaust survivors and survivors of the Rwanda genocide. These studies consistently show that individuals remember real traumas vividly, debunking the notion of repressed memories.

The Dangers of Therapeutic Techniques:

The dangers of suggestive therapeutic techniques come into focus, with Professor Patihis cautioning against therapists who inadvertently contribute to the creation of false memories. He discusses the process of reappraising parents negatively and the gradual development of false memories during therapy.

Investigative Techniques and Police Interviews:

The podcast concludes with insights into the dangers of investigative techniques, particularly in police interviews. Professor Patihis highlights the importance of avoiding suggestive language and introduces the cognitive interview as a less suggestive alternative.

As we navigate the intricate landscape of memory in legal contexts, understanding these insights is crucial. For expert guidance on navigating the legal system, especially as it relates to false allegations based on repressed or false memories, contact Neuberger & Partners.

Click here to watch the full episode of EP#95 | The Real Science of Repressed Memory | With Dr. Lawrence Patihis and don’t forget to click subscribe!

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