Repressed memories are a controversial topic. Most people readily accept that when something traumatic happens to a person, that it can be buried within the mind, to prevent it interfering with day-to-day activities. Although this seemingly common-sense view is widely held by the public, psychologists take a very different view of repressed memories. The work of Elizabeth Loftus is some of the most important within psychology and rather than provide a lengthy discussion of her work, I suggest you read this very interesting article, by her, on repressed memories. The abstract:
Repression is one of the most haunting concepts in psychology. Something shocking happens, and the mind pushes it into some inaccessible corner of the unconscious. Later, the memory may emerge into consciousness. Repression is one of the foundation stones on which the structure of psychoanalysis rests. Recently there has been a rise in reported memories of childhood sexual abuse that were allegedly repressed for many years. With recent changes in legislation, people with recently unearthed memories are suing alleged perpetrators for events that happened 20, 30, even 40 or more years earlier. These new developments give rise to a number of questions: (a) How common is it for memories of child abuse to be repressed? (b) How are jurors and judges likely to react to these repressed memory claims? (c) When the memories surface, what are they like? and (d) How authentic are the memories?
Supporting Loftus's view of repression, is a new report that I've seen discussed over at Nature, which claims that researchers have been unable to find any accounts of repressed memories before 1800 - a finding which suggests that rather than being a real function of the brain, it is in fact a cultural phenomenon:
Writing in the journal Psychological Medicine, the team suggest that repressed memories are not a neurological reality, but a cultural invention from the time when Freud's theories of the unconscious mind took hold of nineteenth century psychology. "I'm reasonably confident that if there were a case, it would have surfaced," Pope says.
Repressed memories may sound like a nice idea, but in reality it appears that the mind doesn't really work in that way. Freud was an interesting man, but like many of his Victorian counterparts, they could only find out so much, when the information that they started off with, was incorrect (or incomplete).Go Top