False memory exists, say psychologists

January 13, 1995

Many British psychologists accept the possibility of false memories, according to a survey by the British Psychological Society.

Of 810 chartered psychologists responding, two-thirds accepted the possibility of false memories and more than one in seven believed that their own clients had experienced false memories, according to preliminary findings announced yesterday.

The survey was launched last year amid fierce debate among psychologists worldwide. In one high profile case in the United States last year a father, Gary Ramona, was awarded $500,000 in damages after a jury agreed that therapists had planted false memories of childhood incest in the mind of his daughter.

Pressure groups such as Britain's False Memory Society have been launched to represent parents who claim they have been falsely accused of child abuse.

The BPS says there is no good evidence that the accusers have "invariably" recovered memories from total amnesia.

Bernice Andrews of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College and an author of the BPS report, Recovered Memories, says the public thinks therapists "are putting things into the minds of patients" and that qualified psychologists automatically believe recovered memories are true. Our survey shows that very few accredited psychologists use hypnosis in any case. Compared to those who do not use hypnosis, those that do are twice as likely to believe that they have had false memories in their own practice."

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