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 Some brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy, new study suggests
11.12.2018 | Columbia University Irving Medical Center

nachricht Climate change and air pollution damaging health and causing millions of premature deaths
30.11.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

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: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magic number colloidal clusters

13.12.2018 | Life Sciences

UNLV study unlocks clues to how planets form

13.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Live from the ocean research vessel Atlantis

13.12.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>