Dr James Ost’s Contributions to the Work of the British False Memory Society

Dr James Ost was a BFMS Advisory Board member who died in 2019.  The following article was written in tribute to his work for the BFMS and was published in the academic journal ‘Memory’.

An article outlining the contributions the work of Dr Ost (1973-2019) made to the British False Memory Society

Professor Christopher French and Dr Kevin Felstead

Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2021.1880600


The British False Memory Society (BFMS) is a registered charity founded in 1993 in response to an epidemic of false claims of past childhood sexual abuse by adults in therapy. The accusers believe they have recovered unconscious memories of a hidden past, but scientific and other evidence raise the possibility of false memories or retrospective reappraisal. The BFMS aims to raise awareness about false memory and to reduce the impact of the resulting false accusations. Dr James Ost was an active member of the BFMS’s Scientific and Professional Advisory Board. Three lines of his research were particularly relevant to the work of the BFMS. The first of these was his investigations of retractors. His insights provided a deeper understanding of processes involved in the formation and subsequent rejection of false memories and beliefs relating to such allegations. He also carried out experimental studies providing empirical proof that false memories can be implanted under well controlled conditions. Finally, he carried out, and produced reviews of, surveys of misconceptions about the nature of memory, thus highlighting issues that have major implications for the working of the legal system. Dr Ost also served as an expert defence witness on a number of occasions.


An obituary for Dr Ost was published in ‘The Psychologist’ magazine.


James’ academic legacy lies in his contribution to our understanding of remembering, memory distortion and false memories. Fascinated by the controversial ‘recovered’ memory debate as an undergraduate, he joined a movement of academics concerned about the potentially devastating impact of such false memories on the lives of the individuals involved. James went on to examine false memories of childhood sexual abuse in his PhD work, supervised by Alan Costall, approaching the issue from an innovative angle. Venturing out of the laboratory, he sought to understand what memory distortion looks like ‘in the wild’, by examining actual cases of retractors – people who initially (e.g. in the course of therapy) disclosed childhood abuse but later retracted these ‘memories’. Apart from deepening our understanding of retractors and possible routes to false memories, this body of work includes a well-received theoretical analysis exploring social influence on remembering and a historical piece on misinterpretations of Bartlett’s theory of remembering (Ost & Costall, 2001a, 2001b).

James’ fascination with the topics of memory distortion and social influence continued through his career when he shifted his focus beyond the psychotherapeutic context and studied other types of real-life memory phenomena, resulting in the publication of over 40 articles, chapters and an edited book titled False and Distorted Memories (Nash & Ost, 2017). His published work reflects breadth and depth of approach across theoretical and applied issues and includes theoretical synthesis, experimental examination of remembering in applied contexts (e.g. influence of police interviewers or co-witnesses on eyewitness reports) and surveys of laypeople and clinicians’ memory beliefs.


To read more please visit: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-32/june-2019/james-ost-1973-2019