Beliefs about Memory in Undergraduates, the Public, and Psychologists
Lavina Y. Ho, Stephany Debski, Patricia J. Place, Stephanie M. Martinez,
Lawrence Patihis, and Elizabeth F. Loftus
Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine
Introduction
Results
Study 2
A majority of students, the public, practicing
psychologists, and alternative therapists agree to some
degree that “traumatic memories are often repressed” (see
Table 1). This is in stark contrast to the researchers,
SARMAC, and SSCP whose agreement is consistently
under 30%.
Study 1 – UC Irvine Undergraduates
81% agreed to some degree that “traumatic memories
are often repressed.”
70% agreed to some degree that “repressed memories
can be retrieved in therapy accurately.”
Beliefs about memory can have consequences for
how people behave. For example, therapists who
believe that traumatic memories are repressed may
develop a treatment plan that is different from the plan
developed by those who do not hold this belief.
Therapists who believe that hypnosis can be used to
recover memories of events as far back as birth, such as
the many who were studied by Yapko (1994), might
use hypnosis in this way, to the detriment of a patient or
client.
Thus it is important to explore the memory beliefs
that people hold, and to see where they deviate from
what science reveals to be true about memory.
We surveyed a large and heterogeneous group of
subjects to determine the beliefs that they hold about
memory.
Those who scored low on critical thinking (Stanovich
derived scale) were:
more likely to agree that “traumatic memories are often
repressed,” “hypnosis can accurately retrieve memories
that were previously not known,” “everything we have
experienced is stored permanently,” “some people have
true photographic memories,”
and less likely to agree that “memory can be
unreliable.” (r ‘s = -.15, -.19, -.17, -.14, .18; all p’s < .01).
Those who scored high on Altemeyer’s Belief in a
Dangerous World Scale were:
less likely to agree that “memory is unreliable,” r =
.22,
and more likely to agree that “everything is stored in
memory,” r = .16, p < .01.
Our major interest here is in the extent to which
people believe in repression, which individual
differences predict such a belief, and whether different
samples; (students, psychologists, the general public)
differentially hold this belief.
Figure 2. When did your beliefs about repression of traumatic
memory change? Undergraduates were excluded from this
graph due to their skewing the distribution towards 2009-2011.
Notice peaks at 1980, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2003. 78% of
these changes in belief were in the direction of becoming more
skeptical about the concept of repression.
Those who scored high on the Basic Empathy Scale
were
more likely to agree with the statements “traumatic
memories are often repressed,”
and “everything we have experienced is stored
permanently,” r ‘s = .18, .14, p < .01.
Method
Discussion
In Figure 1, comparing clinicians in 1994 to clinicians
in 2012 (first and second bars), indicates more skepticism
in 2012 toward the recovery of memories during hypnosis.
Also notice differences between SARMAC / SSCP
members (which include experts in applied memory
issues) and other groups.
Despite some signs of increased skepticism, belief in
the idea of repressed memories is still high in 2012. Most
groups expressed this belief, although those more aligned
with skepticism and/or memory research (such as SSCP,
SARMAC, and university researchers) were less inclined
to express such a belief.
Controversy still exists about whether there is any
credible scientific support for the notion of repression
(e.g. McNally (2003) who claims “no” and Erdelyi (2006)
who claims “yes.”)
Given the controversy, it behooves us to critically
examine the claimed support and determine whether there
is any evidence that people are helped, rather than
harmed, by practices that rely on the supposed existence
of repressed memories.
Further, it might be profitable to develop ways to
disseminate what is known about the science of memory.
For students this can be done in courses. For the public it
might be done through popular science magazines. An
educated public benefits us all.
Study 1
Participants
393 UC Irvine undergraduates (Mage = 20; 75%
female).
Figure 1.
90
Materials and Procedures
Participants took about 100 minutes over two
sessions to complete a battery of personality and
individual differences measures, followed by nine
questions asking about memory beliefs.
2011/12 →
80
70
60
Study 2
50
% Agree
Participants
1272 adults (Mage = 38; 58% female) participated.
The various groups, with their sample sizes are listed in
Table 1.
1994
Hypnosis can be used to recover memories of actual events as far back as birth.
40
80.9
30
60.0
53.8
Materials & Procedures
The survey was administered online, which required
participants have access to a survey link URL. These
URLs were emailed out to psychologists, put on
Mechanical Turk for the public, and put on
Experimetrix for students.
The survey consisted of about 20 demographic
questions and 30 memory belief questions, and took
about 15 minutes to complete.
48.8
51.2
20
32.1
26.8
22.2
10
8.9
0
Yapko (1994)
Psychotherapists
Board Certified
Clinical
Psychologists
(AACP)
7.2
2.7
0.0
0.0
Psychoanlysts
Society for a
Science of
Clinical
Psychology
(SSCP)
Clinical
Psychology
Researchers
0.0
Neuro-linguistic Internal Family
Programming
Systems
Therapists
Therapists
National Board Experimental
for Certified
Psychologists
Clinical
Hypnotherapists
(NBCCH)
Society for
Applied
Research in
Memory and
Cognition
(SARMAC)
Students
US Public
UK Public
India Public
References
Erdelyi, M. H. (2006). The unified theory of repression.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29(5), 499-511.
doi:10.1017/S0140525X06009113
McNally, R.J. (2003). Remembering Trauma. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Yapko, M. D. (1994). Suggestibility and repressed memories of
abuse: a survey of psychotherapists' beliefs. American
Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36, 163-171.
Acknowledgments
χ2(12, N = 1246) = 278, p < .0001, Cramer’s V = .47
This research was helped by a grant from the UC Irvine’s
Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Many thanks
to Scott O. Lilienfeld from SSCP; Maryanne Garry and Kazuo
Mori from SARMAC; and Anita Chen of UC Irvine.
www.postersession.com
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