The Power of Suggestion

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Science  13 Jul 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5835, pp. 171
DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5835.171a

Although it is not uncommon to forget to swing by the grocer's after work only to realize not having done so after arriving at one's front door, it is a quite different experience to have recovered an apparently forgotten memory decades later, especially one pertaining to childhood sexual abuse. Geraerts et al. have attempted to assess whether these so-called discontinuous memories are as reliable as continuous (that is, never forgotten) memories of abuse, where reliability was defined operationally as the success with which independent interviewers were able to elicit corroborative evidence from another victim of the alleged perpetrator, from the actual abuser, or from a contemporaneous confidant. In a sample of 130 adults (recruited via advertisement) with either discontinuous or continuous memories of abuse, they find no difference in the percentages (roughly 40%) for which corroboration could be obtained, except in cases where the discontinuous memories were recovered during the course of therapy; for these 16 people, it was not possible to substantiate the recalled events. The authors propose that expectations or suggestions arising during therapy may contribute to the “recovery” of false memories. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 18, 564 (2007).

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