The Return of the Repressed: The Persistent and Problematic Claims of Long-Forgotten Trauma

The Return of the Repressed: The Persistent and Problematic Claims of Long-Forgotten Trauma

Journal: Perspectives on Psychological Science; https://journals.sagepub.com/home/pps

Authors:

Henry Otgaar, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Section of Forensic Psychology, Maastricht University

Mark L. Howe, Department of Psychology, City, University of London

Lawrence Patihis, Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth

Harald Merckelbach, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Section of Forensic Psychology, Maastricht University

Steven Jay Lynn, Laboratory of Consciousness, Cognition, and Psychopathology, Binghamton University

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Department of Psychology, Emory University

Elizabeth F. Loftus, Department of Psychological Science, University of California, Irvine

 

Perspectives on Psychological Science publishes an eclectic mix of provocative reports and articles, including broad integrative reviews, overviews of research programs, meta-analyses, theoretical statements, book reviews, and articles on topics such as the philosophy of science, opinion pieces about major issues in the field, autobiographical reflections of senior members of the field, and even occasional humorous essays and sketches.

 

Belief in repressed memories is wide and substantial.

 

Can purely psychological trauma lead to a complete blockage of autobiographical memories? This long-standing question about the existence of repressed memories has been at the heart of one of the most heated debates in modern psychology. These so-called memory wars originated in the 1990s, and many scholars have assumed that they are over. We demonstrate that this assumption is incorrect and that the controversial issue of repressed memories is alive and well and may even be on the rise. We review converging research and data from legal cases indicating that the topic of repressed memories remains active in clinical, legal, and academic settings. We show that the belief in repressed memories occurs on a nontrivial scale (58%) and appears to have increased among clinical psychologists since the 1990s. We also demonstrate that the scientifically controversial concept of dissociative amnesia, which we argue is a substitute term for memory repression, has gained in popularity. Finally, we review work on the adverse side effects of certain psychotherapeutic techniques, some of which may be linked to the recovery of repressed memories. The memory wars have not vanished. They have continued to endure and contribute to potentially damaging consequences in clinical, legal, and academic contexts.

 

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