The idea that some people can be coaxed or fooled into "remembering" events that never happened has become the main weapon in an ongoing effort by some groups -- notably the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based FMS Institute -- to diminish or demolish claims of childhood sexual abuse and other dimly remembered horrors that sometimes surface during psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. Among the more than 6,000 members of the FMS (for "False Memory Syndrome") Institute, many are parents who have faced charges of abuse by adult offspring who have undergone some form of therapy. These parents claim they are wrongly accused of heinous crimes, and they say the fault lies not with them, but with the therapeutic methods that somehow implant false ideas in their children's minds.
Can such a thing be done? If so, is everyone equally susceptible? If such a thing is not only possible but fairly common, would it suffice to cast doubt upon any claim of childhood horror that might surface during therapy?
Obviously, such questions are of more than academic interest to investigators of UFOs and alien abduction. While the recent studies made no direct reference to abduction, skeptics have long argued that hypnotic regression itself is the likely cause of "recovered" abduction memories. Proponents of hypnosis, including notable abduction investigators such as Dr. John Mack, Budd Hopkins, Dr. David Jacobs and John Carpenter, insist that they employ safeguards to minimize any chance of "false memory." The controversy rages on.
An Associated Press story dated February 15, 1997, reported recent studies that support the contention that "memories" can be implanted or invented in the human mind. Excerpts from that text, written by Daniel Q. Haney, follow:
SEATTLE -- Given a few bogus details and a little prodding, about a quarter of adults can be convinced they remember childhood adventures that never happened.
The experiment is one of a series of exercises psychologists have developed that can plant false memories in the brain. Once they take root, these thoughts often become as real as genuine ones -- indeed, perhaps even more so.
Psychologists described their memory experiments [on February 15] at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Together, they say the work demonstrates the malleability and fallibility of memory, the human willingness to recall things that make sense or should have happened, even if they didn't.
The researchers say that young children, the elderly and people with short attention spans appear most likely to concoct false memories. But even college students can be easily tricked into swearing they recall things that never happened.
In one experiment, Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington in Seattle asked parents to list some incidents in their adult children's pasts. Then she told the children she wanted to compare their memories with the parents'.
She walked them through a series of real incidents and then threw in a fake one: As a young child, they had been lost in a shopping mall and were frightened and cried until an elderly person found them and reunited them with their parents. With just a little gentle coaxing, Loftus said, about one-quarter of study subjects agree this happened to them. Some even go on to provide new details. The memory can become so fixed that they refuse to believe it is a fake when the experiment is over.
Loftus has been a strong critic of psychologists who help people recover memories of supposedly suppressed traumas, such as child abuse. Such memory recovery has been critical in trials of adults accused of sexual assaults on children. Loftus contends the techniques of some therapists to bring out blocked memories are similar to the ones she used in her experiments to create fake ones.
[end AP text]
But another recent study at Carleton University in Canada draws starkly different conclusions. The current (February 1997) edition of the MUFON UFO Journal features a detailed report on the Carleton study, written by CNI News staffer and clinical hypnotherapist Debra L. Lindemann. Excerpts from her report follow:
A study on "False Memory Syndrome" by graduate psychology student Wendy Hovdestad under the direction of Professor Connie Kristiansen at Carleton University's department of Psychology in Ottawa, Canada, appeared in "Journal of Psychiatry and Law," Winter of 1996.
"False memory syndrome (FMS) is described as a serious form of psychopathology characterized by strongly believed pseudomemories of childhood abuse", according to the Carleton report. The term was created by FMS Foundation, a national organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As of the Winter of 1995, they had over 6,000 families nationwide who claim that their children had falsely accused them of abuse.
It is believed by the Foundation that some therapists often deliberately suggest, lead or push their troubled patients into recovering memories of abuse that never happened. "Proponents of the FMS theory argue that most, or perhaps all, recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse are iatrogenically induced pseudomemories," the report says. The definition of iatrogenic is: Induced in a patient by a therapist's activity, manner or therapy.
Although the entire focus of both the FMS Foundation and the research recently completed at Carleton University is specifically on childhood sexual abuse, what we are dealing with is how the mind remembers trauma. Therefore, this latest study has parallels for the field of Ufology and can most certainly be applied to the trauma of extraterrestrial or alien contact. [The Carleton study tested only female subjects, but the findings seem equally applicable to both men and women.]
The report from Carleton cites two researchers, Nelson and Simpson, who in 1994 worked with twenty "retractors". These are people who have recovered memories of abuse that they now denounce as pseudomemories, or memories which are not true. Although the FMS Foundation states that "FMS is characterized by strongly believed false memories," according to the Carleton study, "all of twenty retractors studied by Nelson and Simpson reported that they regularly doubted their pseudomemories...." This suggests that false or implanted memories are not that readily accepted or believed.
There are, of course, cases where individuals will retract claims of trauma or shock that actually occurred. More than 50 years ago, psychologist Milton Erickson recounted why one of his patients recanted her story. She stated that one "could only imagine it but could not possibly endure it." A common way in which abductees often deal with their experience is to deny or invalidate it. Close encounters can be so weird, so unworldly, that denial not only feels comforting but comes naturally, because the encounter doesn't fit reality, and no previous experience can explain it. Abduction experiences also get swept under the rug to prevent ridicule or loss of credibility.
Contrary to FMS theory, the Carleton study has shown that "respondents with at least one recovered memory believed less strongly in the validity of their memories than did participants with exclusively continuous memories." These results help demonstrate that recovered memories are questioned by the participant, which is healthy.
The following four points or clusters make up the criteria for False Memory Syndrome [according to the FMSF]:
I. Pseudomemories that are:
A. Strongly believed
B. Central to the person's identity, and
C. Objectively false, as indicated by:
i) loss of memory for long-term abuse, or
ii) preposterous events (e.g., ritual abuse), or
iii) denials from the alleged perpetrator.
II. Disrupted relationships with:
A. The alleged perpetrator, or
B. Other nonbelievers
III. Symptom discontinuity.
IV. Therapy that:
A. Was sought for non-abuse issues,
B. Focuses excessively on abuse, and
C. Is with a trauma specialist, who
D. Believes that memories need to be uncovered, and
E. Uses suggestive techniques such as hypnosis.
According to the FMS Foundation, "Criterion I and at least one of Criterion II or III are necessary for a diagnosis [of "false memory"]. Criterion IV is not required because there have been reports of pseudomemories occurring in the absence of therapy."
One of the four clusters of symptoms of FMS is that "a person develops what she believes to be long-lost memories of child sexual abuse of which she had been previously entirely unaware." According to the Carleton study, "FMSF Executive Director Pamela Freyd argued that recovered memories are suspect if they involve longterm abuse, or preposterous events such as ritual abuse...." Abduction can certainly fall into the category of "longterm abuse" because the abduction phenomenon is often not only a lifelong experience, but can also be multi-generational; and, of course, many people also consider the very idea of abduction to be preposterous.
The Carleton study found that "participants with at least one recovered memory reported abuse of significantly longer duration than that reported by those with exclusively continuous memories." The criteria for FMS points specifically to the symptom of loss of memory for long-term abuse, suggesting that anyone who had undergone such trauma could not possibly have forgotten. The Carleton study stated that "although this relation between abuse duration and memory is concordant with FMS theory," several previous studies found that "it is also consistent with clinical findings that longer durations of abuse are associated with more severe abuse, [and] in turn is associated with more memory loss." If these previous studies sited by the Carleton report are accurate, it would therefore be quite possible for some abductees, whose experiences are both traumatic and longterm, to not remember until something triggers their memory.
Since the FMSF specifically targets the validity of recovered memories, the Carleton study also notes that a woman who has had continuous memory and remembers all aspects of her girlhood abuse therefore cannot have FMS. Similarily, a large percentage of abductees have conscious, lifelong, continuous -- though often fragmentary -- memories of events recalled without the aid of hypnosis. These memories would not fall under the definition of FMS either.
When it comes to the validity of the criteria used to define FMS, it appears that the author of the definition of FMS, John Kihlstrom, was defensive. The Carleton report quotes him: "I think it's a mistake to try to come up with diagnostic criteria for FMS... It's a mistake to focus on FMS as a diagnostic entity... 'FMS' is really more like a social and professional problem." The Carleton report states that FMSF Executive Director Pamela Freyd was also asked to provide diagnostic criteria for FMS. She said: "I'm just going to take an aside here and say that [professional organizations] are the appropriate forums for developing the kinds of criteria I think you are asking for." On this issue, the Carleton report concludes: "The reluctance to endorse any diagnostic criteria is even more surprising in light of the appeals to science made by FMS proponents because, unless FMS is defined in a way that allows empirical testing it is nonfalsifiable and hence fundamentally unscientific."
The Carleton study showed that 39.2% of the women who recovered their memories did so independent of therapy. This is often seen with abductees who have memory flashbacks that are triggered suddenly by an event or situation, such as a picture that brings back a flood of memories. Flashbacks usually only last a few seconds and frequently involve missing time periods. When they surface, they can emerge suddenly and with great intensity. A good example of this happened for thousands of people across the country when, in 1987, Whitley Strieber's book "Communion" came out. For the first time on the cover of a national best seller, an illustration of a "grey" flooded the minds of many with uncomfortable feelings, and for others with memories they could not explain.
Overall, the Carleton study revealed that of 51 women with recovered memories, only "two participants (3.9%) fulfilled both the pseudomemory and the relationship criteria, the minimum requirements for a diagnosis of FMS, and neither of these women also met the therapy criterion," when their scores were compared with a baseline of women who had always remembered their abuse and were normal non-pathological survivors, according to FMSF standards. What this 3.9% figure might suggest is that recovered memories, whether remembered outside of therapy or through modalities such as hypnosis, are far more reliable than the FMSF would have us believe.
The Carleton study concludes that "the present findings may mean that FMS is real, but rare," but also suggests that FMS may not exist at all.
[Debra L. Lindemann, a certified-registered clinical hypnotherapist, may be reached by email at: CNI Debra@aol.com.]
Original file name: CNI - False memory
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