Psychology Textbooks’ Coverage of Traumatic Amnesia or “Recovered” Memory

Reporting of Recovered Memory or Traumatic Amnesia as Fantasy

Psychology textbooks tend to present only one side of the debate about the accuracy of delayed recollections of, or “recovered memories,” of childhood abuse (Kisee et al., 2014; Letourneau & Lewis, 1999). Unfortunately, many textbooks present information consistent with the notion that delayed recollections of abuse are false, yet they fail to present evidence for the other side of the debate. Among the most one-sided are the textbooks by Beidel et al. (2014) and Butcher et al. (2013). There is important evidence that counters the notion that recovered memories of child abuse are likely “false memories,” even though textbook authors seem to be unaware of it, or elect to present evidence for only one side of the debate. The truth is that clinical studies show that recovered memories of child sexual abuse are no more or less likely accurate than continuously remembered memories. Dalenberg et al. (pp. 566-567, 2012) summarize this literature in one of psychology’s most respected journals, Psychological Bulletin:

“The hypothesis of confabulation as a primary source of recovered memory of trauma after dissociative amnesia [2] must rely on evidence that recovered memory victims are less likely (relative to those with continuous memories) to be authentic abuse victims. Methodological challenges to such research are plentiful, but it appears that the current evidence supports the TM (Trauma Model) rather than the FM (Fantasy Model) view. Equivalent accuracy of recovered and continuous memories of child trauma were reported by Williams (1995), using hospital records (e.g., of genital or anal injury) as the criterion, and by Dalenberg (1996), using records combined with perpetrator confessions, both objective measures of accuracy. In a volunteer sample, Geraerts et al. (2007) found spontaneously recovered memories to be equally likely to have corroboration (37%) when compared to continuous memories (45%). Memories recovered in therapy, which represent a small proportion of the total recovered memory reports (Andrews et al., 2000), were less likely to be corroborated.”

For more information about textbooks’ coverage of trauma, including controversial topics related to trauma, please see Textbook Reviews.

[1] Dalenberg, C. J., Brand, B. L., Gleaves, D. H., Dorahy, M. J., Loewenstein, R. J., Cardeña, E., … & Spiegel, D. (2012). Evaluation of the evidence for the trauma and fantasy models of dissociation. Psychological Bulletin, 138(3), 550.

[2] Loftus, E. F., & Ketcham, K. (1994). The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of abuse. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.

[3] Williams, L. M. (1995). Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories. Journal of Traumatic Stress8(4), 649-673.

[4] Dalenberg, C. J. (1996). Accuracy, timing and circumstances of disclosure in therapy of recovered and continuous memories of abuse. The Journal of Psychiatry & Law24, 229.

[5] Geraerts, E., Schooler, J. W., Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., Hauer, B. J., & Ambadar, Z. (2007). The reality of recovered memories corroborating continuous and discontinuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Science, 18(7), 564-568.

[6] Kissee, J. L., Isaacson, L. J., & Miller-Perrin, C. (2014). An analysis of child maltreatment content in introductory psychology textbooks. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 23(3), 215-228.

[7] Letourneau, E. J., & Lewis, T. C. (1999). The portrayal of child sexual assault in introductory psychology textbooks. Teaching of Psychology, 26(4), 253-258.