Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The science of false memories

As I discussed in Unidentified Science #3, we have to be very careful when we are using human memories as evidence for anything. Some corroborating evidence is always needed. This isn't just because we forget details or get the sequence of events wrong. One of the worst things that can happen is that we can remember things that simply never happened. This is made worse still by so-called "therapists," who not only might inadvertently induce false memories in their clients, but actively encourage their development. In the past, this has led to to horrific and demonstrably spurious accusations of abuse that have destroyed families, all based upon false memories. This is well summarized in Aronson and Tavris' book, Mistakes Were Made, but not by Me.

This article in The Conversation caught my eye (h/t to @otherworldNE), since it lays out the typical process by which false memories are induced by unethical therapists and paranormal investigators. Hypnosis is a common technique, as is guided imagery or dream interpretation. The clients accepts the authority of the therapist, and is guided down a path to "recover" memories that may well be completely confabulated. Sound familiar? This is why at API ( as we discussed in Episode 2 of API Case Files), we will never recommend hypnotic regression to a witness, no matter how desperate they are to understand their experiences,. We think that looking hard for corroborating evidence, coupled with embracing uncertainty and an acceptance that we may never know everything about what happened will best help the client make peace with their memories. We don't offer easy answers, but we can help people ask better questions.

Are we wrong about that? What do you think?

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