The more susceptible are more susceptible

Carla Clark at Brain Blogger on repressed memories: bullshit or not?

The idea is that repressed memories are different to suppressed memories. Suppressed memories we have pretty solid proof of, although some of us are better at it than others, which in some scientific circles, as we mentioned in a recent article on how best to control intrusive thoughts, has resulted in these proficient thought controllers being dubbed ‘natural repressors’.

Suppressing a memory involves some form of consciously directed effort – a choice – to attempt to not think about it or not. A bona fide repressed memory on the other hand is often considered to happen without free will in response to traumatic events, or has been buried so deep in our subconscious minds that it can take years for the memory to fully resurface.

That’s the spooky Hollywood kind, that finally comes roaring out of the darkness if Joanne Woodward just keeps calling you sweetie long enough.

Indeed, supporters of both sides tend to agree that there is no direct empirical evidence as of yet that unconscious memory repression is a real and reliable phenomenon. You see, the problem with investigating the existence of repressed memories is their subjective nature.

There is no real way, at present, to peek inside the minds of those claiming to have had, or indeed claiming to currently have, repressed memories and see what is going on. All we have is their word. Even if there is solid proof of being exposed to traumatic events, humans are pretty susceptible to self-deception, the memory itself may have never been truly repressed and pushed out of the realms of conscious recall.

And yet we’re told (in some circles) that we simply have to believe, and if we don’t, we’re turning our backs on survivors.

So far, the evidence we have is largely circumstantial and highly-subjective evidence. While some of that evidence comes from sexual abuse victims and genocide survivors on the one hand, other reports of repressed memories come from people claiming to be abducted by aliens, which as you can imagine in the scientific community, doesn’t help matters much.

Exactly. It casts a lot of doubt on the techniques used to dredge up these “repressed” memories.

While false memory syndrome is NOT considered a syndrome in the DSM, the production of false memories is indeed real and has been tested in the lab, and the term is widely used to describe the hypothesis that recovered memories have the potential to be partially incorrect or altogether false.

In fact, this year, one study indicates that it is not the process of hypnosis itself that can produce false memories in some individuals. In fact, the results suggest that those that are the most readily hypnotized, i.e. are highly suggestible and have flexible belief systems, are also more susceptible to the development of false memories.

That’s the thing, isn’t it. If you’ve never formed the habit of noticing bullshit and reacting against it…then you haven’t, and so you’re susceptible to being fooled by bullshit.

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