Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Recovered Memory Syndrome

Everyone agrees that Christine Blasey Ford was persuasive. She testified to her beliefs and we came away thinking that she truly believed that she had been sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, belief is not a standard of proof.

Republicans claimed that she had misremembered what had happened 36 years ago. The alternative would have been to say that she was either lying or manipulated. The options were: she was telling the truth about what happened; she was lying; she had been manipulated.

In the minds of many, women never misremember such events and never lie about them. Many therapists hold to this opinion, so it is worth examining. Of course, never is not the same as mostly, so the science does not really answer the question. As for whether or not women lie, I have tried to get an opinion from Emmett Till… but thus far he has not gotten back to me.

It is not clear, to me at least, whether Ford first remembered the assault during a couples therapy session or whether she had been tormented by it for decades, only to express it for the first time in therapy.

Still, I am happy to report on a story from the Guardian, dating to 2010. It outlines the uses and abuses of memory, and especially what are called recovered memories. Given its date, the story was not ginned up to discredit Christine Ford. Given its appearance in the Guardian, it was clearly intended to show how important due process of law is, and why we should not trust memory without corroborating evidence.

Those who are most responsible for recovered memories are psychotherapists. The worst offenders are those who continue to believe that childhood traumas cause all subsequent neurotic symptoms and emotional distress. Research has shown that such therapists used hypnosis and psychological manipulation to produce memories of events that had not happened… but that provided what therapists accepted as a plausible explanation. See Freud’s case of the Wolf Man.

Chris French writes in the Guardian:

Typically such cases occur when a vulnerable individual seeks help from a psychotherapist for a commonly occurring psychological problem such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and so on. At this stage, the client has no conscious memories of ever being the victim of childhood sexual abuse and is likely to firmly reject any suggestion of such abuse. To a particular sort of well-meaning psychotherapist, however, such denial is itself evidence that the abuse really did occur.

Despite strong criticism from experimental psychologists, many psychotherapists still accept the Freudian notion of repression – the idea that when someone experiences extreme trauma, a defence mechanism kicks in that buries the memory of the traumatic event so deep that it cannot be retrieved into consciousness. Like radioactive waste, its presence is said to exert a malign influence. Indeed, the whole rationale of such therapy is that these hidden memories must be recovered and worked through in order to achieve psychological health.

Therapists manipulate the patient’s mind in order to persuade her (or him) of the inviolate truth of the memory. From the standpoint of therapy, clinical results depend on total conviction, roughly what you find in delusional beliefs… that is, beliefs you take to be unimpeachable real.

French continues:

During therapy, and often as a result of "memory recovery" techniques such as hypnotic regression and guided imagery, the client may gradually develop clear and vivid memories of abuse having taken place, typically at the hands of parents and other family members.

On the evidence of a huge amount of well-controlled research, we can now be confident that these memory recovery techniques are highly likely to give rise to false memories – apparent memories for events that never took place.

The memories are horrifying and extremely detailed:

The memories can be detailed and extremely bizarre, involving ritualised Satanic abuse, gross acts of sexual perversion, cannibalism, human and animal sacrifice, and so on. But they may be nothing more than fleeting images. Indeed, some patients never manage to recover explicit "memories" of abuse but are convinced that such abuse must have occurred because their therapist, who is perceived as an authority figure, tells them that it is the only explanation for their unhappiness.

How do they come about? French cites the example of an Australian psychologist who had been “credibly” accused of rape.

Donald Thomson, an Australian psychologist, was bewildered when the police informed him that he was a suspect in a rape case, his description matching almost exactly that provided by the victim. Fortunately for Thomson, he had a watertight alibi. At the time of the rape, he was taking part in a live TV interview – ironically, on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony. It turned out that the victim had been watching Thomson on TV just before the rape occurred and had confused her memory of him with that of the rapist.

No one knows what happened to Christine Blasey Ford. And yet, while assessing the accuracy of her memory we should keep in mind that memory can deceive us, and that it can be manipulated by psychotherapists and unscrupulous friends.


Dr. Irredeemable Dreg said...

Wikipedia characterizes the precursor to the #MeToo hysteria thusly:

"Day-care sex-abuse hysteria was a moral panic that occurred primarily in the 1980s and early 1990s..."

Even earlier were the Salem witch trials. Later, lynchings orchestrated by Democrat politicians.

Gerald Amirault, who spent nearly 20 years in prison (1986 - 2004) as a result of false testimony, has yet to comment on the current moral panic. The slogan was "Believe the children!" Sound familiar?

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christopher B said...

Interesting to note that trauma can both sear memories into the hippocampus and cause them to be entirely repressed, in the same person.

Dr. Irredeemable Dreg said...

Hippocampus blasinius is a wily and unpredictable beast, given to stealthy attack, but one with a well-deserved reputation for noxious boofing at inopportune moments.

Anonymous said...

Even if she didn’t concoct the entire tale, there’s something so suspicious about the story of a 17 year old Kavanaugh’s misdeeds showing up, after the previous investigations of him at 18 and older didn’t find anything.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: It is not clear, to me at least, whether Ford first remembered the assault during a couples therapy session or whether she had been tormented by it for decades, only to express it for the first time in therapy.

Certainly this is an important question, and my assumptions from what she did say is that she never "forgot", but she did confess "I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen." so perhaps she didn't think about it much consciously for a long time. And that's part of the problem, without a "Comey memo" written down immediately after the event, memories could be mixed up, and its possible even people could be mixed up, but having 2 data points in time, the event and seeing Mark Judge some days or weeks or months later working at the Village Safeway, and there was some nonverbal interaction there when she thought he recognized her and was uncomfortable.

So I think Collins's interpretation is flawed, and McConnoll and Trump's "Proven innocent" nonsense is just bad faith rhetoric to avoid what they prefer to deny.

Anonymous said...

I still have a large doubt that Ford was telling the truth or not. I tried to give the benefit of doubt that something may have happened in the past, but something bothered me about her demeanor, eye use and body language.
when one spends a lot of time on military aircraft one can sleep, play chess or read. After playing chess until I got bored, after SARGON 3, I read a lot. One of the areas that interested me was psychology, power and body language. The eyes are not called by some people the "mirror of the soul" without some positive experience. Body language, if one is observant, can tell one a lot about the actions of people. At the very least I have found it useful.
This brings me to the point that Ford's body language, especially the eyes, did not match her comments. I have noted that people who are used by lawyers to read body language indicated the same thing.
You can find it useful or not. My analysis from my experiences.