What science tells us about false and repressed memories

Henry Otgaar, Mark L. Howe, Lawrence Patihis

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

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What does science tell us about memory phenomena such as false and repressed memories? This issue is highly pressing as incorrect knowledge about these memory phenomena might contribute to egregious effects in the courtroom such as false accusations of abuse. In the current article, we provide a succinct review of the scientific nature of false and repressed memories. We demonstrate that research has shown that about 30% of tested subjects formed false memories of autobiographical experiences. Furthermore, this empirical work has also revealed that such false memories can even be implanted for negative events and events that allegedly occurred repeatedly. Concerning the controversial topic of repressed memories, we show that plausible alternative explanations exist for why people claim to have forgotten traumatic experiences; explanations that do not require special memory mechanisms such as the unconscious blockage of traumatic memories. Finally, we demonstrate that people continue to believe that unconscious repression of traumatic incidents can exist. Disseminating scientifically articulated knowledge on the functioning of memory to contexts such as the courtroom is necessary as to prevent the occurrence of false accusations and miscarriages of justice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Early online date12 Jan 2021
Publication statusEarly online - 12 Jan 2021


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