Memory & FMS

Recovered Memory Data with information on recovered memory corroboration, theories on recovered memory, legal information, physiological evidence for memory suppression, replies to skeptics and books and articles on memory

(has information on the famous Shanley recovered memory case at the end of the page)

The existence of recovered memory is a fact.  Anyone that denies this is ignoring large amounts of data.

The information for this part is a synopsis of data from “Memory, Trauma Treatment, and the Law” by Brown, Scheflin and Hammond, W.W. Norton and Co. New York and London, C 1998 ( Page 370-381

The base rates for memory commission errors are quite low, at least in professional trauma treatment. The base rates in adult misinformation studies run between zero and 5 percent for adults and between 3 – 5 percent for children. These numbers are quite different than what you might here from the pro-fms people or the media.

“Occasional unwitting misleading suggestions (Yapko, 1994a), even the suggestion of a diagnosis of abuse, cannot adequately explain illusory memories of child sexual abuse.” (p. 379) Occasional suggestions about abuse are not generally effective, except in highly suggestible people.

My conclusion is that memory contamination is very unlikely, except under extreme conditions. From the data presented, it sounds like it is almost totally impossible for anyone to make a memory error for the central plot of a memory simply by hearing disinformation. A variety of other factors would have to be in place. Even under hypnosis without several social influence factors, it sounds like it is extremely rare (4-6% of 7-10%, less than one percent of people) may be influenced by disinformation.

It sounds like most people would almost have to be in a cult or in a cult like situation or under considerable duress to produce an untrue memory. Theories that claim that a “false” memory can be created simply by hearing an erroneous statement or because a person is looking for “filler” to complete the central plot of their memory, are probably wrong.

But, if all the information in the media and society available to most survivors is biased toward the incorrect position that memories of abuse are false. And a survivor is manipulated and pressured by their family emotionally and cognitively, it is very possible that a survivor may wrongly believe that their memories are not true.

Memory disturbances and dissociative amnesia in Holocaust survivors
The following articles provide compelling scientific evidence in support of the phenomena of dissociation and recovered memory in Holocaust survivors. In addition to supporting the phenomenon in general, these articles also counter the argument that recovered memory is (a) no more than a recent cultural “fad” and (b) specific to false accusers of sexual abuse.

Recovered memory corroboration rates – There are many studies that show fairly high corroboration rates for recovered memories.

False memory syndrome proponents tactics
False memory syndrome proponents have done the following to try and ensure that only their point of view is in the public view.
Harassing debate opponents, misrepresenting the data in the field and controlling the media.

Calof, D.L. (1998).  Notes from a practice under siege: Harassment, defamation, and  intimidation in the name of science, Ethics and Behavior, 8(2) pp. 161-187. Abstract: I have practiced psychotherapy, family therapy, and hypnotherapy for over 25 years without a single board complaint or law suit by a client.  For over three years, however, a group of proponents of the false memory syndrome (FMS) hypothesis, including members, officials, and supporters of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Inc., have waged a multi-modal campaign of harassment and defamation directed against me, my clinical clients, my staff, my family, and others connected to me.  I have neither treated these harassers or their families, nor had any professional or personal dealings with any of them; I am not related in any way to the disclosures of memories of sexual abuse in these families.  Nonetheless, this group disrupts my professional and personal life and threatens to drive me out of business.  In this article, I describe practicing psychotherapy under a state of siege and places the campaign against me in the context of a much broader effort in the FMS movement to denigrate, defame, and harass clinicians, lecturers, writers, and researchers identified with the abuse and trauma treatment communities.

What hysteria? A systematic study of newspaper coverage of accused child molesters – Ross E. Cheit – Child Abuse & Neglect 27 (2003) 607-623 Results: Most defendants (56.1%) were not mentioned in the newspaper. Factors associated with a greater chance of coverage include: cases involving first-degree charges, cases with multiple counts,cases involving additional violence or multiple victims, and cases resulting in long prison sentences. The data indicate that the press exaggerates “stranger danger,” while intra-familial cases are underreported. Newspaper accounts also minimize the extent to which guilty defendants avoid prison. Conclusions: Generalizing about the nature of child molestation cases in criminal court on the basis of newspaper coverage is inappropriate. The coverage is less extensive than often claimed, and it is skewed in ways that are typical of the mass media….Conclusions – The findings in this study dispute many popular claims about “media hysteria” over child sexual abuse. Based on a comprehensive analysis of all those charged with this crime in Rhode Island in 1 year, it is clear that the coverage was generally limited and often nonexistent. More than half the people charged with child molestation never had their name in the newspaper. Only a handful of those covered received anything more than a few stories, and much of that in brief “fillers” (under 200 words). The lack of support for the “hysteria” position is all the more significant because most of the coverage in this study was in 1993. That is the year that Jenkins (1996) called “the peak of media concern” about pedophile priests. Newsweek had a cover story in 1993 about the so-called “hysteria” about child sexual abuse (Shapiro, 1993). This study suggests that the hysteria narrative does not have comprehensive empirical support in the real world. Like an urban legend, this narrative is continually told and accepted without appropriate skepticism.

False attribution of suggestibility to explain recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse following extended amnesia – Frank Leavitt – Child Abuse & Neglect Volume 21, Issue 3, March 1997, Pages 265-272 Abstract: Suggestibility is central to arguments proffered by critics of recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse who believe that memories involving amnesia are false creations of treatment. The present study represents the first direct investigation of suggestibility among patients who report recovered memory. Suggestibility was measured in 44 patients who recovered memories and in a 31 patient comparison group without a history of sexual trauma using the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale. Results indicated that patients who recover memories were remarkably less suggestible than the clinical field has been led to believe by advocates of false memory. As a group, they scored low on suggestibility. Recovered Memory patients yielded to suggested prompts an average of 6.7 times per case. This compares to an average of 10.6 in the Psychiatric comparison group. Paradoxically, patients without a history of sex abuse were more at risk for altering memory to suggestive prompts. These findings appreciably challenge advocated theories of suggested memory. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(96)00171-8

What research paradigms have cognitive psychologists used to study “False memory,” and what are the implications of these choices? Kathy Pezdek and Shirley Lama – Conscious Cogn 16:2-17. March 2007 PMID 16157490 Abstract – This research examines the methodologies employed by cognitive psychologists to study “false memory,” and assesses if these methodologies are likely to facilitate scientific progress or perhaps constrain the conclusions reached. A PsycINFO search of the empirical publications in cognitive psychology was conducted through January, 2004, using the subject heading, “false memory.” The search produced 198 articles. Although there is an apparent false memory research bandwagon in cognitive psychology, with increasing numbers of studies published on this topic over the past decade, few researchers (only 13.1% of the articles) have studied false memory as the term was originally intended-to specifically refer to planting memory for an entirely new event that was never experienced in an individual’s lifetime. Cognitive psychologists interested in conducting research relevant to assessing the authenticity of memories for child sexual abuse should consider the generalizability of their research to the planting of entirely new events in memory.

The Alleged Ethical Violations of Elizabeth Loftus in the Case of Jane Doe  – In the last few years, there have been allegations that Elizabeth Loftus violated ethical codes in the field of psychology. (Al-Kurdi, 1998; Notes from the controversy ethics complaints filed against prominent FMSF board member APA declines to investigate). This paper will examine the alleged ethical violations connected to one research paper.

A Brief History of the False Memory Research of Elizabeth Loftus Lynn Crook, M.Ed.  The lost- in- a-shopping-mall study (Loftus and Pickrell, 1995) provided  initial   scientific support for the claim that child sexual abuse accusations are false memories planted by therapists.  However, the mall study researchers faced a problem early on—the participants could tell the difference between the true and false memories….The apparent inconsistencies in Loftus and Burns (1982), Loftus and Pickrell (1995) and Schmechel, O’Toole, Easterly and Loftus (2006) suggest that journal editors may need to assume a larger role in creating and enforcing policies that encourage ethical publication practices.  The character-disparaging comments that have appeared in media reports and scientific journals suggest that reporters and journal editors may need to assume a larger role in presenting such comments as one side of a two-sided debate.

The Neurological Basis for the Theory of Recovered Memory – This paper will present research showing the biological basis for the theory of recovered memory. I will define recovered memory as the phenomenon of partially or fully losing part or a specific aspect of a memory, and then later recovering part or all of the memory into conscious awareness. This paper will include data from the works of van der Kolk and Fisler, Knopp and Benson and Bremner. Supporting data will include PTSD studies on Vietnam veterans and survivors of childhood trauma, subjective reports of memory, measurements of stress-responsive neurohormones, animal research on neurohormones, neuroimaging and MRI brain studies. Different theories of memory and amnesia will also be presented….In conclusion, there is a great deal of strong scientific data to show a neurological basis for the theory of recovered memory.

Whitfield, C. L. (2001). The “false memory” defense: Using disinformation and junk science in and out of court. In Whitfield, C. L., Silberg, J. Fink, P. J. Eds. (2001). Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors New York: Hawthorn Press, Inc. (pp. 53 – 78)

“Attorneys for accused, convicted or found-responsible child molesters tend to use a superficially sophisticated argument, which can be described as the “false memory defense.” This defense is fraught with disinformation, smoke screens, and other untruths that are a distortion of what the available science of the psychology of trauma and memory shows. In this article, this seemingly sophisticated, but actually mostly contrived and often erroneous defense, is described and it is compared in a brief review to what the science says about the effect of trauma on memory.”

Also in Haworth Press, Special Issue on Disinformation, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 9(3 & 4)” Abstract: This article describes a seemingly sophisticated, but mostly contrived and often erroneous “false memory” defense, and compares it in a brief review to what the science says about the effect of trauma on memory. Child sexual abuse is widespread and dissociative/traumatic amnesia for it is common. Accused, convicted and self-confessed child molesters and their advocates have crafted a strategy that tries to negate their abusive, criminal behavior, which we can call a “false memory” defense. Each of 22 of the more commonly used components of this defense is described and discussed with respect to what the science says about them. Armed with this knowledge, survivors, their clinicians, and their attorneys will be better able to refute this defense of disinformation.


Recovered Memory Legal Information

Shanley recovered memory case, lost on appeal in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Mass. Court Denies Ex-Priest’s Bid for New Trial 1/15/10 BOSTON (AP) The victim, now in his 30s, claimed Shanley raped him repeatedly when he was a child attending catechism classes at a church in Newton. He said he repressed memory of the abuse for two decades until he saw media coverage of the clergy scandal in 2002.

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a Superior Court judge who ruled earlier that repressed memory theory, or ”dissociative amnesia,” is controversial, but generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. The high court said the theory is supported by “a wide collection of clinical observations and a survey of academic literature.“….

“Repressed memories of abuse is a legitimate phenomenon and provided a valid basis for the jury to find that the victim, a child at the time of the assaults, repressed memories of the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of Paul Shanley, someone who was in a significant position of authority and trust,” Leone said in a statement….During Shanley’s trial, the victim tearfully described how the popular priest used to pull him out of classes and rape him, beginning when he was just 6 years old and continuing until he was 12.

Shanley, now 78, was known in the 1960s and 1970s as a “street priest” who reached out to Boston’s troubled youth. Internal records showed that church officials were aware of sexual abuse complaints against him as early as 1967. The clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in Boston in 2002 after church records were made public showing that church officials had reports of priests molesting children, but kept the complaints secret and shuffled some priests from parish to parish rather than remove them. The crisis, which led to the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, spread as similar sexual abuse complaints were uncovered in dioceses across the country.



This Brief explains why Appellant’s position is wholly inaccurate regarding scientific acceptance of dissociative memory loss and why  his Court’s determination that testimony on dissociative memory loss and recovery, from an otherwise qualified expert, is admissible without a Lanigan hearing, is correct. See Commonwealth v. Frangipane, 433 Mass. 527, 537-538 (2001)….

This brief provides important updated scientific and legal support further strengthening the Leadership Council’s position in that case. It should also be pointed out that the FMSF brief heavily relies on ad hominem arguments and false accusations of dishonesty and intentional misrepresentation….

That the brain can avoid conscious recall of traumatic information has long been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the professional mental health community. Indeed, it is explicitly described as a phenomenon in the 1994 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, the main diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists….

The term “dissociative amnesia” appears as follows in section 300.12 of the DSM-IV: Dissociative amnesia is characterized by an inability to recall important personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature, that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. This definition, alone, demonstrates that the concept of recovered memory is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community….

Although some argue that inclusion of a diagnosis in the DSM-IV is not evidence of its scientific validity, the development of the manual was carefully planned and was based on rigorous scientific standards….
The DSM further notes that “[t]he reported duration of the events for which there is amnesia may be minutes to years….Some individuals with chronic amnesia may gradually begin to recall dissociated memories.”….

Dissociative amnesia is also recognized by the World Health Organization in their inclusion of this disorder in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD-10, 2007). F44.0 Dissociative amnesia The main feature is loss of memory, usually of important recent events, that is not due to organic mental disorder, and is too great to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness or fatigue. The amnesia is usually centred on traumatic events, such as accidents or  unexpected bereavements, and is usually partial and selective. The ICD-10 is the international standard diagnostic classification for all general epidemiological, many health management purposes, and clinical use….

Delayed recall of abuse memories was also recognized in the American Psychological Association’s Final Report from the Working Group on Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse….

FMSF board member Elizabeth Loftus participated in the working group. As the judge in a past case noted:
…even Dr. Loftus conceded upon cross-examination that the APA policy which she helped to create notes that “it is possible for memories of abuse that have been forgotten for a long time to be remembered…” The language of the APA report indicates that the challenge to recovered memories which is included therein concerns the mechanism by which the delayed recall occurs, rather than the fact of its occurrence . . . Furthermore, Dr. Loftus acknowledged that dissociation from a traumatic event is a recognized phenomenon….

The most thoughtful report on recovered memories was issued by the British Psychological Society. British Psychological Society, Report by the Working Group on Recovered Memories (1995). After an investigation of the effect of trauma on memory, the Society concluded that “forgetting of certain kinds of trauma is often reported” for very different kinds of trauma ranging from war trauma to childhood sexual abuse. The report further concluded that the available evidence suggests that between one third and two thirds of abuse victims have periods of time when they “totally or partially forgot the abuse.”….

In summary, there is ample evidence that traumatic memory loss and recovery is accepted by the major scientific organizations representing mental health practitioners. This wealth of documentation and professional acknowledgment contrasts sharply with that for socalled “false memory syndrome,” which, despite years of attention in the media, has failed to be supported by research and is not recognized as a valid diagnostic entity by any national or international health organization. Thus, those who argue against the mind’s ability to dissociate and later recover memories are in the minority….

In summary, not only is there is ample evidence that traumatic amnesia and recovery of memories is accepted by major scientific organizations, there is also strong support for the conclusion that dissociative amnesia is generally accepted among mental health practitioners. Thus evidence regarding traumatic amnesia and/or recovered memory is reliable and admissible in judicial proceedings….

It is notable that every single one of the studies specifically addressing the issue of substantial forgetting of childhood sexual abuse, researchers found that some sub-group within the sample reported either full or partial substantial forgetting for the childhood sexual abuse. Moreover, in Dr. Loftus’ own study of memories of sexual abuse, designed specifically to eliminate some of the flaws she identified in previous studies, 12% claimed to remember parts but not all of the abuse, while 19% claimed that they forgot the abuse for a period of time, and later the memory returned. Loftus, E. F., et al., Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Remembering and Repressing 18 Psychol. of Women Q. 67 (1994)….

Researchers are also beginning to study dissociative amnesia with sophisticated neuroimaging equipment. A recent study shows persuasive evidence that dissociative amnesia is associated with an altered pattern of neural activity which reverses with memory recovery. Kikuchi, H., Fujii, T., Abe, N., et al., Memory Repression: Brain Mechanisms Underlying Dissociative Amnesia, J Cogn Neurosci. (March 20, 2009) [Epub ahead of print]….

The researchers concluded, “Our findings provide direct evidence that memory repression in dissociative amnesia is associated with an altered pattern of neural activity, and they suggest the possibility that the pFC has an important role in inhibiting the activity of the hippocampus in memory repression.” Id. This study is particularly important as it provides significant biological proof of the existence of dissociative amnesia, thereby taking the debate out of the realm of pure psychological theory….

In summary, numerous studies looking at whether the brain can suffer dissociative memory loss regarding childhood sexual abuse have found that some sub-group within the sample reported either full or partial substantial forgetting for the events. No study that has specifically examined for evidence of memory loss in traumatized population samples has failed to sustain this finding, which has been confirmed by neuroimaging research and laboratory studies that show how people are able to suppress other types of unwanted information from entering their conscious mind. Simply put, the science is clear and overwhelming that dissociative amnesia is a recognized reaction to childhood sexual abuse and other traumas….

Research Indicates that Recovered Memories and Continuous Memories are of Equal Accuracy

The reliability of the information recalled after a period of forgetting has been documented in a number of carefully performed studies. These studies have found that, when subjected to independent corroboration, continuous memories and spontaneously recovered memories (like those recovered by the plaintiff in the current case) are of similar accuracy….

Even Elizabeth Loftus, outspoken advocate for defendants in cases involving traumatic memories, has opined that the Williams study validates the experience of child sexual abuse victims who report an inability to recall memories of the abuse until years after the abuse has ended. Bass, A., Study Finds Traumatic Memories Can Be Recovered, The Boston Globe (January 26, 1995)….

In another study, Elke Geraerts, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, examined the validity of recovered memories by attempting to corroborate the memories through outside sources. Geraerts, E., Schooler, J.W., Merckelbach, H., et al., The Reality of Recovered Memories: Corroborating Continuous and Discontinuous Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Psychological Science 564-568 (2007)….The researchers concluded that abuse memories that are spontaneously recovered may indeed be just as accurate as memories that have persisted since the time the incident took place….

Moreover, and contrary to claims that recovered memories are primarily the result of suggestive psychotherapy, most recovery of traumatic memories have been found to occur outside of therapy. In Wilsnack, S. C., et al.’s study of over 700 women, less than 2% of women with delayed recall reported remembering the abuse with the help of a therapist or other professional person. The vast majority of memories were recovered spontaneously in other contexts….

For example, after reviewing the literature, cognitive psychologists Lindsay and Read concluded: In our reading, scientific evidence has clear implications….there are few grounds to doubt spontaneously recovered memories of common forms of CSA or recovered memories of details of never-forgotten abuse. Lindsay, D. S., & Read, J. D., “Memory Work” and Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Scientific Evidence and Public, Professional and Personal Issues, 1 Psychol., Public Policy & L. 846, 894 (1995)….

Testimony based on dissociative amnesia has gained widespread acceptance in courts across the United States. Many state and federal courts have addressed the reliability of delayed memory and related issues involving the statute of limitations. The majority of
reported cases directly addressing this issue recognize the existence of the phenomenon of dissociative/traumatic amnesia and the related experience of delayed recovery of traumatic memories.

other web pages on Shanley

Cover up: Documents: Archdiocese knew priest was a rapist – by Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington – 4/9/02 Boston Herald

Paul Shanley – Summary of Case

Websites citing journal articles proving the veracity of recovered memory include :