Repressed memory is the discredited theory that someone may, as a way of coping, block out memories of a traumatic event. The theory is almost exclusively applied to child sexual abuse, and is promoted by advocacy groups such as the The Leadership Council in order to provide a basis for recovered memory therapy. It does not stand up to empirical scrutiny; there is no reliable evidence that memory repression ever occurs. Several more credible interpretations of apparently repressed memories have been proposed, including false memories and normal forgetfulness.
Substantial evidence shows that memories can be wholly fabricated, often with the guidance of therapy designed to "recover" memories of abuse. Porter, Yuille, and Lehman (1999) were able to create false memories of emotional childhood experiences in 30% of their college sample. Numerous other studies have also had success in implanting false memories.
Many "recovered" memories are obviously implausible, as in the case of satanic ritual abuse. Also, a large number of people who claim to recover memories later retract. StopBadTherapy.com has published many of the stories of these retractors.
- Porter, S., Yuille, J.C., & Lehman, D.R. (1999). "The nature of real, implanted, and fabricated memories for emotional childhood events: Implications for the recovered memory debate," Law and Human Behavior, 23, 517–537.
- Loftus, E. F., Coan, J. A., & Pickrell, J. E. (1996). "Manufacturing false memories using bits of reality." In L. Reder (Ed.), Implicit memory and metacognition (pp. 195-220).
- Loftus, E. F., & Pickrell, J. E. (1995). "The formation of false memories," Psychiatric Annals, 25, 720-725.
- Hyman, I. E., Husband, T. H., & Billings, J. F. (1995). "False memories of childhood experiences," Applied Cognitive Psychology, 9, 181-197.
- Pendergrast, M. (1996). Victims of memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives. London: HarperCollins.
- Goldstein, Eleanor, and Farmer, Kevin (1993). True Stories of False Memories.
- Ost, J., Costall, A., & Bull, R. (2002). "A perfect symmetry? A study of retractors' experiences of making and then repudiating claims of early sexual abuse," Psychology, Crime and Law, 8, 155–181.