My watch list  

False memory syndrome

False memory syndrome (FMS) is a term coined in 1992 by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) to describe a theory that some adults who belatedly remember instances of sexual abuse from their childhood may be mistaken about the accuracy of their memory and that the so-called false memories may have been the result of Recovered memory therapy, another term also coined by the FSMF in the early 1990s.[1] The FSMF is an advocacy organization acting on behalf of individuals who claimed they had been falsely accused of perpetrating sexual abuse.[2] Some of the influential figures in the genesis of this theory are forensic psychologist Ralph Underwager, psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and sociologist Richard Ofshe. Charles Whitfield, MD, in his 1995 book Memory and Abuse, states that all critics of studies of the studies showing support for the validity of delayed memories, that he had found, are members of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation advisory board.[3].

Additional recommended knowledge



The theory of FMS was advanced in response to a historical upsurge in adults claiming to have been sexually abused as children. The theory may be considered a critical response to the psychological theory of dissociation, in which an individual is thought to repress his/her memory of a traumatic experience until later in life. FMS proponents argue that self-help books, such as The Courage to Heal and Recovered Memory therapists are likely to influence adults to develop false memories. According to this theory, psychologists and psychiatrists may accidentally implant these false memories.

The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance has speculated that during the 1980s and 1990s, thousands or tens of thousands of therapists attempted to recover memories of early childhood abuse from their clients. The techniques, practices and exercises used in these attempts are often referred to as Recovered Memory Therapy and sometimes resulted in allegations of abuse being made by individuals against family members. Many of these individuals severed all connection with their parents, hundreds of whom were convicted of these crimes and imprisoned. Many of the people convicted on such charges have since been freed, in part due to the efforts of the FMSF and a wider, skeptical reappraisal of RMT and the veracity of individuals' recovered memories. [4]


One paper described one case in which vivid, factually incorrect memories appeared to be induced in a person who had been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder similar to multiple personality disorder. [5]

FMS advocates claim to be concerned that an individual's purportedly repressed memories may not be historically accurate. FMS advocates strongly believe these memories are often confabulations that, if taken as fact, may result in wrongful accusation and bring unjust emotional and financial distress unto the accused. Other researchers believe that
Research has shown that traumatized individuals respond by using a variety of psychological mechanisms. One of the most common means of dealing with the pain is to try and push it out of awareness. Some label the phenomenon of the process whereby the mind avoids conscious acknowledgment of traumatic experiences as dissociative amnesia. Others use terms such as repression , dissociative state , traumatic amnesia, psychogenic shock, or motivated forgetting . Semantics aside, there is near-universal scientific acceptance of the fact that the mind is capable of avoiding conscious recall of traumatic experiences. [6]
Other researchers also believe that
Brown, Scheflin and Hammond reviewed 43 studies relevant to the subject of traumatic memory and found that every study that examined the question of dissociative amnesia in traumatized populations demonstrated that a substantial minority partially or completely forget the traumatic event experienced, and later recover memories of the event. [7]
… there are over 100 years of reports and descriptions of recovered memory in the literature, including instances from times of war, torture, bereavement, natural disasters, and concentration camp imprisonment. (HOROWITZ) Many corroborated cases have been documented in instances of recovered memory of sexual abuse,… [8]

Recovered memory therapy

Main article: Recovered memory therapy

"Recovered memory therapy" (RMT) is a term coined by affiliates of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in the early 1990s,[1][9][10] to refer what they described as a range of psychotherapy methods based on recalling memories of abuse that had previously been forgotten by the patient.[11] The term is not listed in DSM-IV or used by any mainstream formal psychotherapy modality.[1]

FMS advocates harbor strong skepticism towards any therapist who they believe encourages a client to identify repressed memories. Others believe that there is insufficient evidence that false memories can be created in therapy. [12] In some cases, patients who have recovered previously forgotten memories later decide that those memories are in fact false, and retract their claims. This does not provide conclusive information about whether or not the memories were actually true or actually false; and, the patients may still suffer a kind of post traumatic stress. [13]

Alien abduction and past life therapy

Psychologist Stephen Jay Lynn conducted a simulated hypnosis experiment in 1994, asking patients to imagine they had seen bright lights and experienced lost time. 91% of subjects who had been primed with questions about UFOs stated that they had interacted with aliens. [14]

Harvard University professor Richard McNally has found that many Americans who believe they have been abducted by aliens share personality traits such as New Age beliefs and episodes of sleep paralysis accompanied by hypnopompic hallucinations. These individuals also exhibited stress symptoms similar to those of Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.[15] The experiment led McNally to conclude, "Emotion does not prove the veracity of the interpretation."[14]

Court cases

The question of the accuracy and dependability of a repressed memory that was later recalled has contributed to some investigations and court cases, including cases of alleged sexual abuse or child sexual abuse. [16][17] Some such recollections have been supported by enough corroborating evidence to enable successful prosecution, [18] while others have been deemed confabulations or "false memories" that were not legally admissible.[citation needed]

In the 1980s, the U.S. news media reported on several high-profile criminal cases in which day-care workers were alleged to have committed organized multi-perpetrator sexual abuse against children. Many, if not most, of these convictions have now been overturned and some commentators have pointed to the role which recovered memories, hypnosis, and suggestive interrogation techniques played in the collection of evidence. These cases are often referred to under the popular rubric of day care sexual abuse hysteria and sometimes used as an example of the relationship between false memory and moral panic. Some of these cases included of allegations of satanic ritual abuse.

During the late 1990s, there were multiple lawsuits in the United States in which psychiatrists and psychologists were successfully sued, or settled out of court, on the charge of propagating iatrogenic memories of childhood sexual abuse, incest and satanic ritual abuse.[19] Bennet Braun, an Illinois psychiatrist is arguably the most well-known among psychotherapeutic professionals who were found negligent.

Some of these suits were brought by individuals who later deemed their recovered memories of incest and/or satanic ritual abuse to be false. (for instance, [2]). The False Memory Syndrome Foundation uses the term "retractors" to describe these individuals and some, such as Gail Macdonald, have shared their stories publicly.[3] Some researchers believe that while some retractions may be accurate, the number of reported retractions is small when compared to the large number of actual child sexual abuse cases.[20]Some have suggested that a child may retract their story of abuse due to guilt and a feeling of obligation to protect their family.[21] It is also argued that people who retract previous allegations of incest made against family members may be reacting to the familial stress brought on by their allegations.. [21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Whitfield, Charles L.; Joyanna L. Silberg, Paul Jay Fink (2001). Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors. Haworth Press, p56. ISBN 0789019019. 
  2. ^ Dallam, Stephanie J. (2001). "Crisis or Creation: A Systematic Examination of 'False Memory Syndrome'". Journal of Child Sexual Abuse Vol 9; No. 3/4, pp. 9-36. Haworth Press.
  3. ^ Charles Whitfield, MD, Memory and Abuse, 1995, pg 71
  4. ^ Recovered memory therapy (RMT) on
  5. ^ Ofshe RJ (1992). "Inadvertent hypnosis during interrogation: false confession due to dissociative state; mis-identified multiple personality and the Satanic cult hypothesis". The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis 40 (3): 125–56. PMID 1399152.
  6. ^ Research on the Effect of Trauma on Memory
  7. ^ Summary of Research Examining the Prevalence of Full or Partial Dissociative Amnesia for Traumatic Events
  8. ^ False Memory Syndrome: A False Construct by Juliette Cutler Page
  9. ^ Salter, Stephanie. "Feminist Treason and Intellectual Fascism" (reprint), San Francisco Examiner, 1993-04-07. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. 
  10. ^ Underwager, Ralph; Hollida Wakefield (1994). Return of the Furies: An Investigation into Recovered Memory Therapy. Open Court Pub Co, 360. ISBN 978-0812692716. 
  11. ^ Lief, Harold I (November 1999). "Patients Versus Therapists: Legal Actions Over Recovered Memory Therapy". Psychiatric Times XVI (11).
  12. ^ Brown, Scheflin and Hammond (1998) . Memory, Trauma Treatment, And the Law (W. W. Norton) ISBN 0-393-70254-5
  13. ^ Kelly Lambert and Scott O. Lilienfeld, [1], 'Scientific American Mind', Oct 2007.
  14. ^ a b Alien Abductions: The Real Deal?
  15. ^ Alien 'abductees' show real symptoms at the BBC
  17. ^ Elizabeth Loftus
  18. ^ The Recovered Memory Project
  19. ^ Recovered Memory Lawsuit Sparks Litigation
  20. ^ Whitfield M.D., Charles L. (1995). Memory and Abuse - Remembering and Healing the Effects of Trauma. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc, 375. ISBN 1-55874-320-0. “...while some of the retractions are likely to be accurate, they are small in number compared with the vast number of actual case of child sexual abuse, and it is likely that some of the retractors were actually sexually abused and that many were abused in other ways and have re-activated their traumatic forgetting.” 
  21. ^ a b Summit, R. (1983). "The child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome.". Child Abuse & Neglect 7: 177-193. “Whatever a child says about sexual abuse, she is likely to reverse it. Beneath the anger of impulsive disclosure remains the ambivalence of guilt and the martyred obligation to preserve the family.”

Further reading

  • Ceci, S.J., Huffman, M.L.C., Smith, E., & Loftus, E.F. (1994) Repeatedly thinking about non-events. Consciousness and Cognition, 3, 388-407.
  • Freyd, Jennifer J. (1996). Betrayal Trauma - The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-06805-x. 
  • Hyman, I.E., Husband, T.H., & Billings, F.J. (1995) False memories of childhood experiences. Applied Cognitive Psychology 9, 181-197.
  • Knopp, Fay Honey (1996). A Primer on the Complexities of Traumatic Memory of Childhood Sexual Abuse - A Psychobiological Approach. Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press. ISBN 1-884444-20-2. 
  • Loftus, E. & Ketcham, K. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse, St. Martin's Griffin, 1996. ISBN 978-0312141233.
  • Ofshe, Richard and Watters, Ethan Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994
  • Pendergrast, Mark. Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives, Upper Access,Inc, 1995. ISBN 0-942679-16-4.
  • Perina, Kaja. "Alien Abductions: The Real Deal?", Psychology Today, March/April 2003. Retrieved on 2005-12-26. 
  • Whitfield M.D., Charles L. (1995). Memory and Abuse - Remembering and Healing the Effects of Trauma. Health Communications, Inc. ISBN 1-55874-320-0. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "False_memory_syndrome". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE