Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Media-fueled bias distorts validity of recovered memories

16.02.2004


There’s a big discrepancy between what science shows about recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse and what’s being shown in the media, according to University of Oregon memory researcher Jennifer Freyd.



Most people find recovered memories less believable than events someone has always remembered, despite research showing that whether a memory is true or not has no documented relationship to whether it was always remembered or only recently remembered, Freyd says.

Uncovering this bias may help remove the daunting challenges faced by abuse victims when they seek treatment and attempt to bring their abusers to justice, she says.


Freyd will present her findings about "Misleading and Confusing Media Portrayals of Memory Research" as part of a panel titled "The Science of Child Abuse" at 9 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle.

"This bias suggests widespread ignorance and confusion about memory for abuse," Freyd says. "Our duty--scientists and the media alike--is to provide accurate information so the focus returns to the devastating effects of child abuse."

Freyd and Lisa DeMarni Cromer, a UO doctoral student, found this bias in an experiment with more than 300 undergraduate participants. These students rated the believability of vignettes describing abuse disclosures. One version of the disclosure described a recovered memory such as this: "A college friend, David, confides in you that he was forced by his father to have sex with him when he was nine years old. David tells you that he has only recently remembered this aspect of his childhood, and also that he has never told anyone until now."

Other participants read a vignette where a few key words were altered in the second sentence: "David tells you that he has always remembered this aspect of his childhood, but he has never told anyone until now."

Believability of the disclosure was rated from 1 (not at all believable) to 5 (very believable). If the memory was continuous, the average rating was about 4.0, but if it was recovered it was about 3.6. This difference is highly statistically significant and reveals a distinct bias, Freyd says. (See graph.)

"No one has produced any data that I’m aware of to show that recovered memories are more likely to be false than memories people say they’ve always been able to recall," Freyd says. "Any memory could be false. Your belief shouldn’t depend on whether there was a period of forgetting."

If that’s the case, why do people tend to disbelieve recovered memories?

Freyd says both imprecise terminology in some scientific publications and misleading news reports are largely to blame. She points out that journalists often mistakenly use the term "false memory." Similarly, journalists reporting on high profile sex abuse cases such as the Catholic Church scandals often don’t reveal that victims whose cases were corroborated had the experience of recovering memories.

Freyd also notes that the media sometimes sensationalize findings in ways that harm victims of child abuse. Last year at the AAAS meeting it was reported that some participants could be led to believe they had seen Bugs Bunny in a Disneyland photo. This widely reported finding almost always was referred to in the context of so-called "false memories." By implying a connection between misremembering a cartoon character, comparing this situation to memories of child abuse and using the term "false memories," the issues become distorted.

In a second study conducted that has been accepted pending revisions for an upcoming issue of Ethics & Behavior, Freyd’s research team found that an increasing number of scientific articles have used the phrase "false memory" to refer to subtle errors in word memory. (See graph.) Use of the same term, Freyd argues, causes people to assume that such errors are directly relevant to memories of abuse.

"What we have found," says Freyd, "is that forgetting sexual or physical abuse is more likely when the perpetrator is a caregiver, such as a parent, than when the perpetrator is not a caregiver, such as a family friend or a stranger." (See table.)

The bottom line is that people abused by family members are even less likely to be believed if their testimony is based on recovered memories. "Let’s not hurt victims even more by doubting them just because they unconsciously dealt with trauma by burying painful and disturbing memories for a period of time. We need to address the real issues," Freyd says. She recommends journalists and scientists guard against sensationalizing research or taking it out of context.

Freyd is internationally known for her work in memory research. She heads the UO’s Freyd Dynamics Lab and is the author of "Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Child Abuse" (Harvard University Press, 1996), hailed as a landmark work introducing the now commonly accepted theory of "betrayal trauma" to explain why people often suppress memories of child abuse, particularly at the hands of family members and caregivers.


Editor’s Note: Freyd’s findings are reinforced by a discovery announced in the Jan. 9, 2004, issue of Science. Researchers at the University of Oregon and Stanford University have located a mechanism in the human brain that blocks unwanted memories. This is the first time anyone has shown a neurobiological basis for memory repression.

Melody Ward Leslie | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>