Creating false memories


Elizabeth Loftus in 1995:

This manuscript is close to the final version that was published with this citation:
Loftus, E.F. & Pickrell, J.E. (1995) The formation of false memories. Psychiatric Annals, 25, 720-725.

So, scroll down to Lost in a Shopping Mall.

Most of the experimental research on memory distortion has involved deliberate attempts to change memory for an event that actually was experienced. An important issue is whether it is possible to implant an entire false memory for something that never happened. Could it be done in an ethically permissible way? Several years ago a method was conceived for exploring this issue; why not see whether people could be led to believe that they had been lost in a shopping mall as a child even if they had not been. (See Loftus & Ketcham, 5 for a description of the evolution of the idea for the study). In one of the first cases of successful implantation (Loftus & Coan, 6), a 14 year old boy named Chris was supplied with descriptions of three true events that supposedly happened in Chris’s childhood involving Chris’s mother and older brother Jim. Jim also helped construct one false event. Chris was instructed to write about all four events every day for five days, offering any facts or descriptions he could remember about each event. If he could not recall any additional details he was instructed to write “I don’t remember”.

The false memory was introduced in a short paragraph. It reminded Chris that he was five at the time, that Chris was lost at the University City shopping mall in Spokane, Washington where the family often went shopping. That Chris was crying heavily when he was rescued by an elderly man and reunited with his family.

Over the first five days, Chris remembered more and more about getting lost. He remembered that the man who rescued him was “really cool.” He remembered being scared that he would never see his family again. He remembered his mother scolding him.

A few weeks later Chris was reinterviewed. He rated his memories on a scale from l (not clear at all) to ll (very, very clear). For the three true memories, Chris gave ratings of 1, 10, and 5. For the false shopping mall memory, he assigned his second-highest rating: 8. When asked to describe his getting lost memory, Chris provided rich details about the toy store where he got lost and his thoughts at the time (“Uh-oh. I’m in trouble now.”) He remembered the man who rescued him as wearing a blue flannel shirt, kind of old, kind of bald on top…. “and, he had glasses.”

Chris was soon told that one of the memories was false. Could he guess? He selected one of the real memories. When told that the memory of being lost was the false one, he had trouble believing it.

Note, in case anyone reads this without having read previous threads including the comments, I’m not posting this here to suggest that Dylan Farrow has a false (created) memory. It’s part of the broader discussion about memory.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. ludicrous says

    Despite this kind of research and much other evidence indicating that our memories may not be accurate I still live inside my frame that assumes my memories are correct. I wonder what it will take to disabuse me (us) of this notion.

    It reminds me of my mental representation of a god that is still floating around up there in the sky after many years of knowing it is not really there..

  2. says

    That’s super interesting!! One thing that seems to be going on is that people confabulate the “hypothetical spaces” in a story, and once those memories also get laid down in long-term memory they serve to reinforce the truth of the main memory (which is false!) I imagine* that this may be the kind of effect that allows people to induce absurd beliefs in others and that’s why things like biblical stories and myths are full of semi-details that cement the overall credibility of the story – essentially you build up an interlocking web of lies that anchors on a few facts. Like, you know, that there was a Roman Empire and crucifixion was a punishment the romans sometimes used, and so on and so forth.

    (* choosing my words very carefully!)

  3. Adam S says

    Ophelia, thank you for this fascinating post. Thanks to all the others who have commented on this and the last thread.

    I’m still skeptical on whether something can be implanted to have such a profound traumatic effect, but I’m less convinced that it is, as I phrased it, bullshit.

    Not that I believe Allen or his lawyer in this case, I’m starting to think that such memory implantation maybe possible, in principle.

    For someone to use it as a form of vengeance against an ex-lover, still seems a little “storybook” like a bad episode of CSI.

  4. Jason Dick says

    I definitely feel that this kind of information is essential to consider in the discussion of child rape. It really isn’t an issue of Dylan lying vs. telling the truth, but whether or not her memory might potentially be false.

    And my argument for that is: there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Dylan’s memory is a false one. There are a large number of confirmed facts about Woody Allen’s life that establish his interest in underage girls (such as his marriage to his stepdaughter). Furthermore, this kind of rape is shockingly common. This alone perhaps isn’t enough to convict Woody of child molestation or rape, though perhaps if there is more physical evidence that I am not aware of then there might be. Even without that level of proof, it is overwhelmingly likely that Dylan is telling the truth.

    Furthermore, there is one essential hole in the false memory story that I would hope can be addressed: can false memories induce PTSD? It would, of course, be profoundly unethical to attempt to induce PTSD in a wholly fabricated memory using a method similar to the Loftus & Coan study. But perhaps there are “natural experiments” of people who have PTSD from demonstrably-false memories, or studies of demonstrably-false memories where the person lacks PTSD. Searching a bit, I only see instances of PTSD where false memories are produced, not the converse where a false memory results in PTSD. It would be a very difficult thing to show, I am sure, but I would be interested if it’s even possible.

  5. says

    Memory in general is pretty fallible. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that most of the time, our memories are a reflection of our feelings – how we want/wish to look at ourselves in the present – rather than any accurate record of the events in the past.

    Though I am not really sure how these things effect trauma.

    In reference to Dylan… There have been a handful of anecdotes/case-studies of false memories in regards to childhood sexual abuse. However, I am pretty sure those are very rare events. Meaning, these sorts of findings should not be used as a free pass to victim blaming buffoons who refuse to believe stories of past abuse simply because they are fond of the accused.

    From what I read, which is not much, of the few case studies that have concrete data around them to back them up, and there are not that many, the false allegations of childhood abuse were almost always easily falsifiable. Meaning false memories of past abuse have distinct differences from actual memories of past abuse…. in that the false memories, presumably because the person with the false memories did not suffer actual abuse, barely resemble what is known to typically happen in actual cases of known abuse. Of the known cases, these false stories are either easily falsifiable, very vivid and surrealistic, and most of them are side effects of hypnotic suggestion. (Back in the day, when this was in vague of a lot of practitioners tried to use hypnotism to “recover memories” and ended up creating false ones by asking leading questions. Which is why this is no longer practiced by professionals.)

    In any event one should not and I would probably argue cannot use this as a reason not to believe Dylan. Those who do, I would think either have not done their research on this topic, or are looking for any reason at all, even if it is not a good one, to dismiss the accusations. If anything, the evidence against Woody far far outweighs the unrealistic chance that this is simply a case of “false memories.”

    So yeah, I just wanted to write this up because I have been following this stuff about Woody and did not want to see Dylan’s story ignored simply because Woody’s Lawyer was slick enough to play off of this culture of sexism, victim blaming, celebrity worship and use science inappropriately to try and get his client out of trouble. I think it is bollocks to use these bits of interesting science to push an unrealistic agenda that Woody is somehow not a sick sex predator… that sick guy has all the marks of one and he is ganna use all his power to get away with it.

  6. quixote says

    When I was a very small child there was an extremely dense brown fog in our town. I remember it rolling against the windows like soup.

    As I got a bit older, I remember wondering why other people didn’t remark on it. And once I was a young adult I wondered why it wasn’t in the history books. By then I knew that such a thing was so unusual, it should be mentioned somewhere. But I didn’t worry too much about it. I had other things to do. There’d been a brown fog when I was a kid. That’s all.

    It was only a few years ago that I figured out what had happened. There had been one of the worst smog events ever in London after WWII (1952? 1953?). Thousands of people died. I must have heard my parents talking about it, and having a vivid imagination, I could just see it, so to speak.

    The really strange feeling for me is knowing that something I saw as clearly as my first bicycle didn’t actually exist. Knowing that, and in retrospect, I realize there were some dreamlike aspects to the memory. The air inside the house was perfectly clear, and my parents were just sitting around, taking the whole thing very calmly. But if I think back, I can still see that brown fog rolling against the windows.

  7. Shatterface says

    In reference to Dylan… There have been a handful of anecdotes/case-studies of false memories in regards to childhood sexual abuse. However, I am pretty sure those are very rare events. Meaning, these sorts of findings should not be used as a free pass to victim blaming buffoons who refuse to believe stories of past abuse simply because they are fond of the accused.

    There is a massive literature on false memories – just google Satanic ritual abuse.

    It’s only a few years back that millions of people believed sworn testimony from ‘victims’ who claimed they’d been impregnated by their own fathers in order to provide babies for cannibalistic rituals.

    Families were torn apart and social worker and police resources were wasted, conferences were held about how the cults were lead by a Jewish Doctor Green/Greenbaum who had escaped the Holocaust by joining the Nazis, etc.

    And the evidence from all this came from vulnerable people subjected to psychoanalysis and hypnosis.

    False memories are easily implanted by professionals looking for confirmation of theories they already hold.

    I’m not claiming that’s the case with Woody Allen but there are hundreds of cases of far more outrageous ‘abuses’ which turn out to be confabulations a to meet expectations of concerned professionals.

  8. says

    @ShatterFace

    Yes, there is a lot of literature on false memories concerning molestation… but there are not a lot of well documented and well evidenced cases. The Satanic case is the one, single, case that is most often cited and studied, and yes I read about it… but we have to keep in mind the environment that case took place in. In that many people attribute it to a case of mass hysteria combined with improper questioning by police and psychiatrists.

    Such a single case study can not be readily applied to all cases of abuse. As I said, there are very few actual well evidenced cases for false memories when it relates to childhood abuse, most literature is talking about the same individual events. Now while we can learn a lot about that single case – mostly how to not question child witnesses – we can’t really derive conclusions about general child abuse cases, As in, I do not think you can actually get a general trend that is statistically relevant enough such that is should cause doubt to any child molestation accusation.

  9. billyeager says

    I’m surprised nobody has brought up the FMSF – that skeevy group of ‘expert’ witnesses utilised by numerous courts to discredit adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

    ‘False memory’ is often the go-to claim for those accused of historical abuse of children.

  10. billyeager says

    Actually, I’ve just noticed that you’re quoting Elizabeth Loftus, a member of the FMSF.

    Do you consider this to be objective and unbiased research Ophelia?

  11. Shatterface says

    Such a single case study can not be readily applied to all cases of abuse.

    It’s not a ‘single case': it involved hundreds of cases.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_satanic_ritual_abuse_allegations

    Lumping all Satanic abuse cases together as ‘one case’ makes as much sense as lumping all real cases of incest together as a ‘single case’ of incest.

    As I said, there are very few actual well evidenced cases for false memories when it relates to childhood abuse, most literature is talking about the same individual events.

    See my link above for how well your ‘same events’ hold up.

    Now while we can learn a lot about that single case – mostly how to not question child witnesses – we can’t really derive conclusions about general child abuse cases, As in, I do not think you can actually get a general trend that is statistically relevant enough such that is should cause doubt to any child molestation accusation.

    You can’t use statistical data to decide on one case of anything. You can use statistics on hundreds of cases to argue the same skepticism we would apply to anything else is advisable.

    You can also point out that it’s only possible to disprove false memories when they involve outrageous claims such as children being forced to give birth for human sacrifices when they’ve never been pregnant – as in some of the SRA claims – but you can’t prove memories are false if they are just one person making claims of sexual abuse decades earlier.

    The spark for the SRA panic was the book Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist and eventual husband (now that is an unhealthy relationship) based on her ‘recovered’ memories. According to the book, if you think you might have been abused, you were

    The reason the SRA took root was because the orthodoxy was that ‘victims’ should automatically be believed no matter what the evidence suggested. For investigators it didn’t matter what the truth was:.

    From Wikipedia:

    [The Mail on Sunday] asked Pazder: “Does it matter if it was true, or is the fact that Michelle believed it happened to her the most important thing?”
    He replied: “Yes, that’s right. It is a real experience. If you talk to Michelle today, she will say, ‘That’s what I remember’. We still leave the question open. For her it was very real. Every case I hear I have skepticism. You have to complete a long course of therapy before you can come to conclusions. We are all eager to prove or disprove what happened, but in the end it doesn’t matter.”

  12. Shatterface says

    Actually, I’ve just noticed that you’re quoting Elizabeth Loftus, a member of the FMSF.
    Do you consider this to be objective and unbiased research Ophelia?

    Maybe you should address the argument rather than resort to ad homs.

  13. kevinalexander says

    My mother had vivid memories of a huge forest fire in Northern Ontario. She could describe the things she saw in intricate detail as though she was seeing it again in her minds eye. The only thing was that the fire happened the year before she was born. Since the event itself was so traumatic to so many people then that’s what everyone talked about for years. She imagined what became a memory.
    Can you get PTSD from a false memory? I did for a bit. I had just started Catholic school, mid 1950’s, and couldn’t sleep for weeks after demons came up through the floor of my bedroom and dragged me into Hell.
    It may be that Allen gets away with something if only because you can’t convict him on one person’s testimony.

  14. Shatterface says

    If this was about memories, real or false, of anything other than child abuse people would be arguing about the evidence.

    If this was a scientific experiment we were discussing people would be saying, wow that’s fascinating, not how dare you?

    Simple test: study the following list for 30 seconds:

    Candy, sour, sugar, bitter, good, taste, tooth, honey, soda, chocolate, heart, cake, eat, pie.

    Now which of the following words doesn’t appear in the list?

    Taste, point, sweet

    Most of you will have got point but missed sweet. That’s how easy it is to manipulate your memory – and I didn’t subject you to months or years of psychoanalysis while in a position of authority over you.

    If I was convinced you were the victim of abuse because you had feelings you might have been by someone you have other reasons to dislike how long do you think it would take for me to ‘recover’ repressed memories?

  15. latsot says

    It’s quite common for my wife and I to have very different memories of something that has just happened. This is most common as part of an argument. We usually agree on what has been said, but disagree greatly on the order in which it was said, which can obviously greatly affect the context and therefore our impression of what each of us have said.

    We often find ourselves arguing at cross purposes for this reason: we think the other is implying something they aren’t because we remember what was said in a different order.

    Naturally, we both think we’re right. I think I’m right not only because of my ego-based bias but because I tend to have a clear memory of the order in which things were said, while she does not. But that’s hardly evidence, is it? If it’s memory that’s in question in the first place, more isn’t necessarily better. I also have what I consider a very good memory. I can remember a lot of detail about events from long, long ago. I remember a lot of details from when I was 3, for example (trust me, that was a long time ago. But of course, I can’t corroborate those memories with anyone else because they have forgotten those things. So I have no idea about whether my memories are accurate or even whether they are completely made up (or planted, for that matter). Worse, until I got older and trained myself to do it, I had a poor sense of placement in time. From my earlier years, I have no clear sense of when the things I remember clearly actually happened. So how do I know the memories I mentioned are from when I was 3? Because of where I was at the time (similarly to what Ophelia said). But since nobody can corroborate those memories, how do I know that the location is part of what I’m mis-remembering?

    False memories can be created over time. Our memories of the distant past are unreliable for a whole bunch of reasons. But our memories of the very recent past – within the scope of one conversation, for instance – can also be unreliable. Either me or my wife or both have unreliable memories of the very recent past, otherwise we’d at least be able to agree what it is we’re disagreeing about.

  16. Shatterface says

    It’s quite common for my wife and I to have very different memories of something that has just happened. This is most common as part of an argument.

    I was just about to make this point. I’ve never, to my recollection, started an argument: the other person has.

    There’s a study by a psychologist who, on the day after 9/11, asked his first year students to write an account of how they learnt of the attacks. Three years later he asked them again. By that time everyone ‘remembered’ seeing it live on the news – and where surprised when they reread their earlier reports and discovered they heard about the events later.

  17. Shatterface says

    Another example is how people are unwilling to admit they’ve change their position on something – you’ve just ‘misinterpreted’ what they said earlier. They’re not lying, they genuinely believe what they’re saying.

    Or there’s records of people with anosognosia – a denial of a disability – who temporarily recover but now claim they’d never denied their disability. Or the confabulations of people with Korsakoff’s Syndrome.

    These are extreme cases but they point to the fact memories aren’t ‘stored’ like in a computer, they are manufactured when needed.

  18. Shatterface says

    Another fascinating example:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/is-it-inception-total-recall-no-science-fact-false-implanted-in-mice-brains-8732466.html

    Trying to implant false memories into the minds of people is difficult, but not impossible. One of the most famous cases was the American actor Alan Alda who was making a science documentary about the work of Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
    During a picnic lunch on a university campus Alda was offered a hard-boiled egg, which he refused on the grounds that he had made himself sick as a child by eating too many boiled eggs.
    It turned out that Ms Loftus had managed to implant this false memory during a previous questionnaire session when she had revealed some “facts” to Alda about his childhood, which included being sick on eggs. She also managed to convince another experiment volunteer that he had got lost in a shopping mall as a child and was “found” by an elderly gentleman who led him back to his mother. Convinced of his false memory, the man even came up with a detailed description of the elderly man who had found him. He also rated this false memory as more real even than some of his genuine childhood memories.
    Ms Loftus has also managed to convince people that on a previous trip to Disneyland they had had an encounter with the cartoon character Bugs Bunny, even though this would have been impossible given that the buck-toothed rabbit is owned by the rival Warner Brothers film studio.

  19. Bernard Bumner says

    The question is whether false memories tend to have characteristics that distinguish them from genuine memories.

    What a lot of this research suggests to me is that adversarial examination of victims is likely to lead them to manufacture detail, even where the essential elements of the memory are genuine. We probably have unrealistic expectations about how reliable and consistent genuine recall should be.

  20. billyeager says

    Maybe you should address the argument rather than resort to ad homs.

    Ad homs? What, like pointing out that the FMSF is widely recognised as having a membership and leadership that consists of accused, convicted and even self-confessed paedophiles? It’s not really ad hominem if the point I am making is to highlight a, supposed, expert scientific researcher aligning herself with a known group of paedophiles and paedophile apologists.

    Besides which, none of the research relates to memory formation *during* traumatic experiences in the immature brain. They, instead, merely show how recall of an event which did not actually have any trauma associated with it, because it wasn’t real, can be suggested to a person and then, voila, we can generalise our observations in court to claim that fake memories of something that didn’t happen are exactly the same as late-recalled emotionally-traumatic memories of incestuous sexual abuse, therefore False Memory Syndrome, right?

  21. latsot says

    I should point out that – like Ophelia – I’m not suggesting that Dylan Farrow’s memories are false. My views on that issue are pretty much the same as those expressed by Ophelia in the various related threads.

    We know that memory is unreliable but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe other people’s. That was part of the point I clumsily tried to make in my first post on this thread.

  22. Shatterface says

    Ad homs? What, like pointing out that the FMSF is widely recognised as having a membership and leadership that consists of accused, convicted and even self-confessed paedophiles? It’s not really ad hominem if the point I am making is to highlight a, supposed, expert scientific researcher aligning herself with a known group of paedophiles and paedophile apologists.

    That is ad hom. Try addressing the evidence. How does the the status of FMSF explain Alan Alda’s aversion to eggs, for instance, or the other experimental evidence that I’ve mentioned pointing to the unreliability of memory?

    Play the game, not the player.

    (You don’t seem to extend your cynicism towards FMSF to the totally discredited organisations taken in by the SRA hoax, by the way.)

    Besides which, none of the research relates to memory formation *during* traumatic experiences in the immature brain. They, instead, merely show how recall of an event which did not actually have any trauma associated with it, because it wasn’t real, can be suggested to a person and then, voila, we can generalise our observations in court to claim that fake memories of something that didn’t happen are exactly the same as late-recalled emotionally-traumatic memories of incestuous sexual abuse, therefore False Memory Syndrome, right?

    That’s incoherent gibberish. The ‘victims’ of SRA abuse were genuinely traumatised by the ‘memories’ confabulated during analysis: they’re not saying, ‘Apparently, I was subjected to ritual abuse for years – isn’t that interesting?’, they’re saying their life has been ruined beyond recovery. And in many cases that’s true – but ruined by psychiatrists, social workers, the courts, etc. not parents whe read too much Aleister Crowley.

    What we have is a difference between those who studied memory as a subject in itself and who see questions of its reliability as an empirical matter, and those who see memory through the lense of child abuse and who are epistemically committed to its reliability whatever the evidence.

  23. Shatterface says

    I should point out that – like Ophelia – I’m not suggesting that Dylan Farrow’s memories are false. My views on that issue are pretty much the same as those expressed by Ophelia in the various related threads.

    For the record, I have no opinion on the matter one way or another – and if I did my opinion would be worth jack shit, just like everyone else’s on the internet.

  24. latsot says

    @Shatter:

    It’s not the case that opinions are worth nothing. It’s not anti-scientific or unskeptical to have an opinion.

  25. billyeager says

    That’s incoherent gibberish.

    Thanks. So you consider the point I make about the vast difference between suggested memories and those formed in actual events during traumatic experiences, is ‘incoherent gibberish’?

    I’m not sure whether your comments here are derived from rigour or obtuseness.

    You do accept that there are cases of SRA that have actually occurred, yes? The tabloid-friendly hysteria about false accusations notwithstanding, there remains the far more serious problem of child-abusers hiding behind the fragile minds of their damaged victims, by way of discrediting their claims as lies, fantasy or even wishful-thinking, because, yes, adults who abuse children are really fucking twisted bastards who will lie through their teeth to avoid being held to account.

    Loftus’ research is, at best, akin to a parlour trick. That the false-SRA ‘victims’ were traumatised by their experience after-the-fact, namely, that an event that didn’t happen, but was suggested convincingly at a later date, would have caused equivalent trauma for the person at the time of experiencing the memories and the associated chaotic emotional upheaval that it no doubt triggered in the therapist’s office and outside of it.

    Trauma occuring to a young child that is suppressed in memory and recalled at a later date when they are adults, is known to induce emotional states of fear and mental instability akin to it being endured all over again, with the same inability to process the events through to resolution due to the immaturity of the victim when the events took place.

    So you have an adult who succumbs to a suggested memory as an adult, versus, in terms of neurological and psychological differences, to the adult who succumbs to spontaneously recalled memories of childhood abuse and is re-traumatised by it and struggles to resolve it.

    Traumatic and non-traumatic memories are stored differently. This has been proven with fMRI scans. Childhood trauma that causes extended periods of toxic-stress is known to result in alterations in gene expression in the developing brain, resulting in marked differences in the mature brain. These are proven facts, visit http://developingchild.harvard.edu/ if you want to insist again that I am talking ‘incoherent gibberish’.

  26. says

    can false memories induce PTSD?

    I would expect so, yes. The thing about false memories is that they rely on the mechanisms of real memories, so they will act just the same. PTSD appears to be a strong reaction to memories when they are triggered (adrenaline and amphetamines both have been shown to dramatically increase short-term memory response and a lot of soldiers suffering PTSD were full of … adrenaline and often stimulants when their triggering events occurred) I guess you could describe (not dismissively) PTSD as an over-learned response to a memory. I think the thing we’re losing track of is that once a “false memory” is embedded in our brains with our other memories, it’s just a “memory” and if it’s false or not is only information available to an outsider.

    In my play with hypnosis, one of the things I did was videotape myself doing an induction, then videotaped myself (later) triggering it in my friend. When they watched the videos, a couple days later, their response was jaw-hanging amazement (this was regarding the goldfish/fair story) including a revelation “wait a minute! you didn’t KNOW ME when I was 13!” as the rest of the brain started accessing the related memories.

    Another way of answering your question would be meta-level: nobody has experience of hell, but there are a lot of christians who get very upset about the idea of going there. My thinking at this point is that religion is nothing but a great big wad of implanted false memories. False memories, in fact, are just another word for false knowledge, which happens all the time. I know we experience a false memory differently from false knowledge but that’s a question of degree.

  27. billyeager says

    @26 Marcus, I think you are playing fast and loose with your claim that a strong emotional reaction to an implanted memory is the same as PTSD. An inability to properly process the stimuli of an event, due to fear of engaging with full recall is an entirely different beast to ‘an over-learned [emotional] response to a memory’.

  28. says

    @ ShatterFace

    As I said, the satanic ritual thing was a single incident, isolated to one area, that can be classified under mass hysteria, and thus it is improper to use. What it also highlighted was the improper use of police questioning, and police still do this despite it being known to produce false confessions… and the psychologists who underestimated the power of suggestion. Nothing in that indecent can be used to make generalizations.. non of the links you put up validate any point that can cause doubt on child abuse cases in general.

    As others have said as well, because there is so little actual data, there are no enough statistically relevant well documented cases of false memories in child abuse cases that you can not make generalizations about the data. Most of the literature is about certain case studies, the most famous you keep mentioning… but one anecdote/case study does not make a theory. Anecdotes can’t be used to generalized… case studies are used to prompt interest in wider research but are not to be used to make wide generalizations. So your conduct here is exactly the kind that is not warranted… and it is exactly this kind of “skepticism” that the lawyer wished to promote to get his client off the hook… when multiple lines of independent evidence suggest that he really is a child molester.

  29. billyeager says

    @7 Shatterface

    It’s only a few years back that millions of people believed sworn testimony from ‘victims’

    I have to ask, why the misrepresentation on the numbers? You phrase it as though millions of people heard the case and believed the sworn testimony of the ‘victims’, as if they were in the court-room themselves when, actually, what you are talking about is the number of people who read journalists’ reports about the case.
    Big difference.

  30. Shatterface says

    It’s not the case that opinions are worth nothing. It’s not anti-scientific or unskeptical to have an opinion.

    It’s unskeptical to have an uninformed opinion on matters which should be decided on information rather than gut feelings.

  31. latsot says

    It’s unskeptical to have an uninformed opinion on matters which should be decided on information rather than gut feelings.

    If the opinion is uninformed, how is it decided on either?

  32. gshelley says

    There was a case in Austin years ago, where the convicted have just been released because the evidence was so poor
    http://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/news/2013-11-26/fran-keller-released-from-prison/
    In this case, the claims went far beyond the reasonable, into the utterly bizarre

    including that the Kellers took Christy and other children on plane rides to Mexico where they were abused by various individuals, that Fran cut off the arm of a gorilla at Zilker Park, that the Kellers performed a satanic bone-replacing ritual on one child, and that the Kellers forced the children to watch them sacrifice babies and small animals.

    Clearly, these things didn’t happen. I’d be interested if it is know how many of the people who testified as children had actual memories implanted, and how many were just repeating what they had been encouraged to say.

  33. Shatterface says

    Thanks. So you consider the point I make about the vast difference between suggested memories and those formed in actual events during traumatic experiences, is ‘incoherent gibberish’?

    Yes, since you can’t determine whether the events were real or confabulated based on the trauma suffered. Claiming that events must be real since the trauma is real just displays your ignorance of hundreds of case studies of people deeply traumatised by experiences they never had.

    I’m not sure whether your comments here are derived from rigour or obtuseness.

    Your problem, not mine.

    You do accept that there are cases of SRA that have actually occurred, yes?

    Satanic abuse involving human sacrifice, cannibalism, etc? Cite me some cases.

    The tabloid-friendly hysteria about false accusations notwithstanding, there remains the far more serious problem of child-abusers hiding behind the fragile minds of their damaged victims, by way of discrediting their claims as lies, fantasy or even wishful-thinking, because, yes, adults who abuse children are really fucking twisted bastards who will lie through their teeth to avoid being held to account.

    Which is what we have courts for, not Twitter.

    Loftus’ research is, at best, akin to a parlour trick. That the false-SRA ‘victims’ were traumatised by their experience after-the-fact, namely, that an event that didn’t happen, but was suggested convincingly at a later date, would have caused equivalent trauma for the person at the time of experiencing the memories and the associated chaotic emotional upheaval that it no doubt triggered in the therapist’s office and outside of it.

    Except there are hundreds of cases of implanted memories that demonstrate that yes, absolutely, memories confabulated by therapy have effects indistinguishable from memories of real events.

    Trauma occuring to a young child that is suppressed in memory and recalled at a later date when they are adults, is known to induce emotional states of fear and mental instability akin to it being endured all over again, with the same inability to process the events through to resolution due to the immaturity of the victim when the events took place.

    Even if memory worked that way – which it doesn’t – those emotional states would be indistinguishable from memories manufactured by the ‘therapeutic’ process.

    So you have an adult who succumbs to a suggested memory as an adult, versus, in terms of neurological and psychological differences, to the adult who succumbs to spontaneously recalled memories of childhood abuse and is re-traumatised by it and struggles to resolve it.

    Except they’re rarely ‘spontaneously recalled’, they emerge after months or years of therapy and the longer the therapy goes on the more outrageous the claims often become and the more likely the accuser is to develop other symptoms like multiple personality disorders which are almost entirely a product of therapy itself.

    Traumatic and non-traumatic memories are stored differently. This has been proven with fMRI scans. Childhood trauma that causes extended periods of toxic-stress is known to result in alterations in gene expression in the developing brain, resulting in marked differences in the mature brain. These are proven facts, visit http://developingchild.harvard.edu/ if you want to insist again that I am talking ‘incoherent gibberish’.

    Memories of genuine tramas are even less reliable than non-traumatic events because the brain has fewer resources available to process them as it is dealing with the actual trauma at the time.

  34. says

    Shatterface @ 32 – it’s not an either/or; it’s not all or nothing. It’s not “unskeptical” or credulous or dogmatic to have a qualified opinion, that’s pegged to the amount of information that’s available and similar variables.

    I do think it’s dogmatic to be too insistent in either direction, which is why I said yesterday that asking whether one “believes” DF or WA is asking the wrong question.

    In a sense we could all just throw up our hands and say we don’t have all the information so we have no opinion…but the trouble is that that lets the status quo flow on unimpeded. It lets celebrities leverage their celebrity into immunity for doing some very shitty things.

  35. latsot says

    Yay, it’s all about us!

    Let’s not forget the plight of the millions of people we’re talking about.

  36. Shatterface says

    As I said, the satanic ritual thing was a single incident, isolated to one area, that can be classified under mass hysteria, and thus it is improper to use.

    No, it wasn’t ‘a single incident, isolated to one area’, it was a worldwide phenomena including hundreds of cases throughout the UK, Ireland, the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa.

    It took in hundreds of child care professionals, politicians, several prominent feminists and the entire media for years.

    So no, I don’t accept it was an isolated incident.

    What it also highlighted was the improper use of police questioning, and police still do this despite it being known to produce false confessions… and the psychologists who underestimated the power of suggestion. Nothing in that indecent can be used to make generalizations.. non of the links you put up validate any point that can cause doubt on child abuse cases in general.

    Except I’m not casting doubt on ‘child abuse cases in general’, I’m caing for skepticism regarding individual cases. The reason STA went global was that the assumption recovered memory was reliable went unquestioned.

  37. Shatterface says

    Shatterface @ 32 – it’s not an either/or; it’s not all or nothing. It’s not “unskeptical” or credulous or dogmatic to have a qualified opinion, that’s pegged to the amount of information that’s available and similar variables.

    It is when we are talking about specific cases.

    I do think it’s dogmatic to be too insistent in either direction, which is why I said yesterday that asking whether one “believes” DF or WA is asking the wrong question.

    And yet it’s a question people are wiling to answer.

    In a sense we could all just throw up our hands and say we don’t have all the information so we have no opinion…but the trouble is that that lets the status quo flow on unimpeded. It lets celebrities leverage their celebrity into immunity for doing some very shitty things.

    No, it doesn’t. We can discuss child abide in general without committing ourselves to believing or disbelieving an unproven case.

  38. says

    No it isn’t.

    As for “committing ourselves to believing or disbelieving” I already said, yesterday, that “belief” is the wrong word. You started with “opinion.” There’s a difference. I agree that it’s foolishly dogmatic to stake out a firm “belief” but I think having a qualified, non-absolute opinion is another matter. Not in every case, but in this case, Dylan Farrow is pointing out that she’s been forgotten in all this idolization of Woody Allen. I think – I think – that she probably has a point, and if she does then we really should take what she says seriously. Not treat it as self-evidently true, but not treat it as obviously false either.

  39. says

    , I think you are playing fast and loose with your claim that a strong emotional reaction to an implanted memory is the same as PTSD. An inability to properly process the stimuli of an event, due to fear of engaging with full recall is an entirely different beast to ‘an over-learned [emotional] response to a memory’.

    The question is whether the underlying mechanism is the same and whether the response is a matter of degree, or whether there is a completely different underlying mechanism involved. I have no idea. I suppose eventually neuropsychology will be able to tell us.

  40. says

    BTW – If I “claim” that PTSD and strong emotional reactions from implanted memories “are the same thing” then you’ve interpolated quite a bit beyond my deliberately cautious wording. I am speculating and I believe the way I worded things indicates that.

  41. says

    There is growing evidence that memories are actually stored in the brain in a very fragmented fashion, with individual fragments held in the place where the data point was processed. That is to say, your memory about driving to work this morning might consist of the sound of traffic and horns stored in the sound processing part of the brain, the route is stored in the part of the brain that processes spacial relationships, individuals signs stored in the parts that deal with vision, color, shape and contextual meaning, etc. These fragments are stored as archetypes: you do not have hundreds of memories about how bacon tastes, for example, you have only one or two that get used over and over again.

    In the cerebellum, there is a kind of daemon that assembles these fragments into a cogent whole. This daemon is basically an idiot savant, capable of amazing feats but about as bright as a puppy. Like a puppy, it is very eager to please: if you ask for a memory that it does not know, it will assemble one for you out of the stored memory archetypes. There are independent checks, such as the part of the brain that gives rise to the “I’ve seen/heard/been here before” feeling, but ultimately the memory daemon is the final arbiter of what we remember.

    If the daemon can be convinced that a memory exists, it will exist. Maybe it is an actual event — a birthday party or observation of a crime — with some facts remembered and other filled in to justify opinions or cover gaps. Maybe it never existed and was created from scratch, like a Ferris wheel made out of Tinker Toys. Once it has been sufficiently reinforced, it will be as real as any other memory.

  42. says

    “These fragments are stored as archetypes”

    Ah yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to say in my ramblings about my own memory. That’s what I keep finding when I look at my memories, it’s what I mean by narrative and composite.

  43. says

    Once it has been sufficiently reinforced, it will be as real as any other memory.

    I had a very memorable dream, once – extremely detailed. What was odd was that I remembered so well that I eventually got confused as to whether or not it had actually happened. I was only able to peel it out of my reality when I realized that there was one detail of the false memory that was contrary to reality – it was a weird sensation to have to literally re-train myself not to believe in the event I dreamt.

  44. MyaR says

    So this discussion led me off to look for research on false memories and plausibility, specifically on the difference between (what I have discovered) can be labeled “general plausibility” and “personal plausibility”. For example, while I find child abuse to be (sadly) generally plausible, it is not personally plausible, not even if it were proposed as something that happened before age 3 (i.e. before I have any real memories). Given the things I know about my parents, it would be completely out of character for them to have abused me. (They were both emotionally abused and/or neglected as children, and my mom talked about it quite a bit, and about how they explicitly didn’t want to raise children the way they were raised.) Now, would it be hard to implant a memory of being stepped on by a cow? Nope. I’m pretty sure I never was, but my brothers and parents and cousins were, and it would be a very plausible thing to happen to a small child on a dairy farm.

    In fact, I’m pretty sure a memory I have of being in the barn when the bull got loose is false — my father sold the bull after that incident, and I was younger than 3. I did hear the story about it getting loose, but it was because my brothers or I could have been in the barn that precipitated the decision to sell the bull, not that any of us were in the barn.

    This is an interesting paper on the relationships between general plausibility, personal plausibility, personal belief and personal memory. It also has me thinking about some of the methods for assessing memories, and particularly the links between plausibility and how we construct memories. We’ve got tons of unconscious heuristics for assessing probabilities, and those are part of how we recall our memories. This study seems to show that, since belief and memory seem to depend on plausibility, boosting the possibility of creating a false memory needs to boost the overall plausibility.

    All of this was also based on an intuition related to the DF/WA story — it seems plausible (with no judgment on actual likelihood), based on what we know about the creation of false memories, that the specific instance of sexual abuse related could (again, no judgment on likelihood) be a false memory, but for it to be a false memory, there would need to be environmental circumstances that would have made it personally plausible to DF. A normal relationship with one’s father shouldn’t produce those circumstances, and there seems to be quite a bit of independent verification that WA behaved very inappropriately (if not actually criminally) toward her.

    Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has some interesting fictional explorations of related topics, too, specifically on a false memory that supplanted a real memory, and how it actually feels to have two dissonant memories of the same general thing, and knowing one could not have happened.

  45. says

    Quite so. Whether or not he in fact stuck a finger up her is almost beside the point, in my view. (She on the other hand doesn’t see it that way.) The “wooing” was already so creepy and unhealthy (for her) that it was abusive.

    I mean come on. Parents are supposed to love their children to death, and hug and kiss them and all that good stuff – but they’re not supposed to make out with them. Boundaries, people.

  46. says

    As Shatterface correctly points out, there was a slew of reported abuses in the 80’s and 90’s centered around traumatic childhood memories recovered later in life, memories that often involved implausible yet plainly horrific events like sexual abuse at the hands of roving Satanists. These memories were usually recovered by (usually religious) mental health professionals who believed specifically that mental illness could find its origins in the suppressed thoughts of their clients, though they were also fostered by the prolific literature of recovered memory autobiographies and support groups.

    Along the same time, there was panic-stricken criminal prosecutions of daycare center workers, teachers and parents based on the heavily coerced/suggested confessions of young children, again often involving descriptions of ritualistic cults who tortured thousands under the cover of night. Together these two events, scattered throughout the world, came to make up the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic as we now know it. (And I’m giving a very condensed version here, there’s also a big tie-in to the epidemic of Dissociative Identity Disorder among these recovered memory clients)

    The latter virtually vanished after the panic subsided and people began realizing they were convicting people of being Satanic cannibals on little more than implausible testimonials from justifiably scared children willing to say anything to go home. The former, while no longer as prominent or accepted in the mainstream psychiatry community, still exists as small clusters of therapists who promise to uncover the unresolved traumas of their clients.

    Both, I personally feel, have little to do with the Farrow case.

  47. Stacy says

    Eddy Cara, great comment, thanks. You put the “Satanic Panic” in succinct perspective.

    I’m sick of dealing with people who drag out SRA or the McMartin Preschool case in order to suggest that false accusations or implanted memories are rampant (as opposed to rape and sexual abuse, which really are depressingly common.)

    Woody Allen’s team have suggested that Mia Farrow “implanted” Dylan with a false memory due to vindictive rage over his relationship with her daughter, but let’s not forget that Allen was in counseling for inappropriate behavior with Dylan–behavior witnessed by third parties–two years before MF found those photos of Soon Yi.

  48. billyeager says

    Satanic abuse involving human sacrifice, cannibalism, etc?

    Ah, so now you want to define SRA as always involving ‘human sacrifice, cannibalism and some undefined thing called ‘etc’?
    This: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/mar/09/paedophile-satanic-cult-batley-kidwelly was SRA, in that it centred around ritualistic behaviours, upside-down crucifixes, Crowley, the usual stupid shit, because that is what ritualised abuse is, the use of normalised belief in the supernatural to suggest to a victim that they are at the mercy of a very powerful person, or persons.

    But, according to you, it wouldn’t count because there was no human sacrifice, cannibalism or ‘etc’? Because there are an awful lot of cases of SRA that wouldn’t qualify as ‘real’ according to your criteria.

    But, anyway, back on-topic to the discussion of memory.

    Except they’re rarely ‘spontaneously recalled’, they emerge after months or years of therapy

    I must be privy to one of these ‘rare’ cases then. A person extremely close to me had been developing worsening symptoms of mood disorder only to, spontaneously, have a sudden realisation, as she approached middle-age, that her parents had actually been abusive monsters to her all through her childhood, with her father actively sexually assaulting her on a regular basis right up through to early adulthood. She was utterly shocked and appalled to realise that she had been blocking this fact from her conscious mind for decades.
    She was not seeing a therapist. These memories were not ‘prompted’ by anybody.
    Upon investigation, her fears were realised when a third-party confirmed to knowing that inappropriate things were occurring in the family home.
    The father, of course, rabidly denies any such thing and immediately accuses his daughter of being out of her mind, fabricating the entire thing. When asked why, then, the third-party had corroborated the memories, he simply accuses this person of being out of her mind, too, or evil, or both.
    For her to attempt to process this reality, she ended up in time ‘recalling’ no end of horrific things, a number of which may well not have happened. That she was abused is not in doubt, that her memory of her childhood is fragmented and not reliable is, also, an accepted fact.
    She suffers from a complex range of personality disorders, as a result of the abuse. Something which would be likely absent were she to have had a well-balanced and emotionally healthy childhood but had had memories of abuse ‘implanted’ as an adult.

    Her case is not unique, sadly. Given that sections of the ‘esteemed’ psychology profession had, for many years, suggested incest to possibly be beneficial for a child, can you understand why presenting a psychologist who aligns herself with a discredited organisation such as the FMSF, should be viewed with suspicion?

  49. theoreticalgrrrl says

    I would think any intense or emotionally charged experience in general would much more likely to be stored in your long term memory than anything else.

    A false recovered memory might happen to an adult who never had any memory of abuse but have been told by a therapist that they “have all the signs” of sexual abuse, and then through hypnotic regression therapy they find information in the subconscious to fit the diagnosis. Under hypnosis people are highly suggestible, and a guided visualization can sometimes seem as vivid as an actual memory.

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