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Controversy over Recovered Memories Essay (Article)

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2020

Introduction

This is a review of the article titled ‘The Controversy over Recovered Memories.’ It is authored by Henry L. Roediger of Washington University, St Louis and, Erik T. Bergman of Pitney Bowes Technology Center. It involves the varied contentious issues surrounding the debate on repressed memories and their later recovery. Psychologists have, over time, struggled to put this debate to an end, but with the varied views expressed by psychological authors in different journals, books, and special issue articles, this matter is still rife. The authors discuss the following issues in the article:

  • The inconsistent and contradictory assumptions as well as evidence used in support of different psychologists’ cases;
  • The different ways of recovering dissociated memories and the accuracy of those different modes of memory recovery;
  • The neglected relevant research bodies, which are, hyper amnesia and reminiscence, the effectiveness of cues of retrieval, experiments on intentional memory loss and memory tests,
  • The issues on the research strategies used to obtain evidence on long-delayed information retrieval.

The article is a literature review as well as a critic of the works done by Alpert, Brown, and Courtois in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law on the report of the American Psychological Association (APA) on the issue of childhood abuse memories. The authors challenge the inconsistencies they recognize in the other study in the following fields:

Forgetting of traumatic events

Roediger and Bergman (1998), observe that the previous study stated that memories of childhood abuse disassociated from other memories could be accurately recovered in later years of adulthood. They observe that the following assumptions were made:

  • The encoding of a traumatic event experienced singularly often thorough, and its memory is consequently good
  • Repeated traumatic events are usually encoded in different ways, and it is therefore assumed that they cannot be consciously recollected.

They observe that most of Alpert, Brown, and Courtois’ (1998) findings on traumatic memory are based on a case study together with a retrospective survey, which are both based on the above assumptions. This makes the case less convincing as there is the use of poor quality evidence used and also the referring of previous conceptualization of both type I and type II trauma by Terr, (1998) as hypothetical, and it needs further research. The authors also observe that most of the assumptions made by Alpert contradict the generally recognized conclusions made from experiments done by psychologists over the last century. An example is a conclusion that repeated traumatic events are poorly remembered as compared to single traumatic events. However, the authors agree with Alpert et al. that some isolated case studies need further investigation.

Recovered Memory

Roediger and Bergman (1998) are set to investigate how painful, traumatic events that have been forgotten either through repression or dissociation banished from consciousness for a long period of time can be remembered. The authors observe that Alpert et al. has only a few case studies cited as evidence, and even these are highly suspect. This is because the encoding of memories is non-verbal and not symbolic. Alpert et al. also observes that memories of non-traumatic events are poorer than those of traumatic events. On the other hand, Alpert considers memories of childhood events to be accurate.

Neglected Memory Research

Roediger and Bergman (1998), express their surprise on the failure by Alpert et al. to incorporate repeated testing literature into the discussion on neglected memory. They have also recognized that literature, whether primary or secondary, on the indirect memory testing or implicit memory as expressed by pert, Brown, and Courtois, (1998) is lacking in the study.

Research strategies in human memory

Roediger and Bergman, (1998), observe that there is a further debate on the strategy of research. They cite Alpert et al. (1998c) evidence where, on the one hand, there are case studies from previous reports and, on the other hand, controlled naturalistic studies or laboratory experiments. The authors assert that strong experimental evidence has been sidelined in favor of methodologically inaccurate literature on case studies. This sidelining and subsequent overreliance of the inaccurate literature work has contributed immensely in doing the work to lose the credibility that it deserves.

The hypothesis of the study

This study is mainly based on previous studies by Alpert, Brown, and Courtois in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law on the report of the American Psychological Association (APA). The authors criticize the previous study based on preceding experiments done by other psychologists for over the century preceding the date of the authoring of the article.

The comparison is made in light of real data collected by other psychologists in their studies and the incorporation of this data in the studies of Alpert et al. (1998). The author deduces inconsistencies with the generally accepted psychological experiments’ results, as evidenced throughout the science. The authors cite previous surveys as evidence of their critic of the studies by Alpert, Brown, and Courtois in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law on the report of the American Psychological Association (APA)

The study finally concludes that first, the notion expressed that traumatic events in early childhood are dissociated or repressed from other events is inconsistent with the evidence that repeated experiences are remembered better than singular ones. However, the author acknowledges the use of PTST to support this conclusion is subject to argument. Secondly, the authors establish that poorly encoded messages cannot be recovered by whatever means possible since no cue can recover memories that were originally not there. Thirdly, Roediger and Bergman, (1998), note that though the existing literature on the psychology of memory, though relevant, has not been incorporated into this debate on recovered memory. This includes literature on;

  • The inconsistent and contradictory assumptions as well as evidence used in support of different psychologists’ cases;
  • The different ways of recovering dissociated memories and the accuracy of those different modes of memory recovery;
  • The neglected relevant research bodies, which are hyper amnesia and reminiscence, the effectiveness of cues of retrieval, experiments on intentional memory loss and memory tests
  • The issues on the research strategies used to obtain evidence on long-delayed information retrieval.
  • Fourth, the authors exhibit their issues on the use of disparate research by those who propose the effects of repressed memories.

However, they agree with Alpert that clinical and experimental research pays off in the end. The authors finally denounce the denial exhibited by Alpert, Brown, and Courtois (1998) that there is no real epidemic of recovered memory cases in the clinical psychology field.

Conclusion

The research was conducted extensively as the authors have tried to cite a myriad of other studies. The study has also extensively striped Alpert, Brown, and Courtois publication to its basic fundamentals in order to deduce accurate conclusions about it. The authors have also gone further to incorporate statistical data done by other psychological researchers as evidence of their preferred argument. Roediger and Bergman have also given a broad time frame of previous studies, and they seem to have deeply researched the psychological findings of other psychologists done for more than a century. However, they have relied greatly on secondary data and articles which compromise the integrity of their findings.

According to Wade and Tavris (2011), some of these secondary data sources contradict each other, and this undermines the validity of the information cited from them as readers are not sure which source to trust. Roediger and Bergman, (1998), have not indicated any of their original research in their critic of Alpert, Brown, and Courtois (1998) publication. Finally, there is a need to engage this APA report further as it seems it has not generated much interest by clinical psychologists as established by Roediger and Bergman.

Research ideas inspired by the article

There is a need for future studies into the debate of implicit memory, directed forgetting paradigms, effects of repeated testing, and varied retrieval cues. There is also a need to further investigate literature on disassociation of traumatic memories in PTSD patients. There is also a need to investigate laboratory experiments further as this study shows more research has been channeled towards previous literature.

The use and potential impact of the research findings in the ‘real world’ lives of everyday people

The research findings recognize that the controversy over recovered memory is rife, and it needs more in-depth discussion by clinical psychologists as cases of memory recovery are on the rise among human populations.

References

Wade, C. and, Tavris, C. (2011). Invitation to psychology (5th ed). Boston. Pearson Publishing. Web.

Roediger, H. L. III, and Bergman, E, T. (1998), The controversy over Recovered memories. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. Web.

Terr, L. (1988). What happens to early memories of trauma? A study of twenty children under age five at the time of the documented traumatic events. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 96-104. Web.

Alpert, J. L., Brown, L. S., & Courtois, C. A. (1998). Symptomatic clients and memories of childhood abuse: What the trauma and child sexual abuse literature tells us. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 4, 941—995. Web.

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