Memories

During my last past I said I would concentrate of four main type of forgetting memories, flashbulb memories, repression, false memories and reconstructive memory. So I am clear on what each of these are I have done some further research:

Flashbulb Memories: involve the vivid recall of what individuals were doing when a major event occurred. This event may be a public or a private occurrence. Brown & Kulik (1977) asked people a series of questions about 10 major events. Participants remembered where they were, what they were doing and the emotional impact it had. These memories may be seen as ‘special’ and are thought to involve special brain mechanisms. Rubin & Kozin (1984) showed that flashbulb memories are particularly powerful for personal events, such as love at first sight. McCloskey (1988) suggested that flashbulb memories are as prone to forgetting as ordinary memories. Bohannon (1988) suggested that flashbulb memories are not prone to forgetting when the event produced strong emotional reactions.

Repression: according to Freud (1800s) is the unconscious forgetting of traumatic events, feelings, thoughts because they are too painful to remember. These memories are said to be repressed or ‘pushed out’ of consciousness into the unconscious and are very difficult to recall. These repressed memories may be the cause of mental abnormality as they express themselves in some other way. There is increasing evidence of repressed memory in cases of childhood sexual abuse. Williams (1994) examined records of young women who had been treated for sexual abuse as children and seventeen years later 38% of them had no conscious recall of the abuse. Zimbardo (1995) reported the case of Eileen. In 1989 Eileen suddenly remembered the reason for her childhood friend, Susan’s, disappearance twenty years earlier. Eileen’s father had raped and murdered her. Eileen had repressed this memory due to threats from her father and the understandable trauma it caused. Her father was sentenced to life imprisonment.

False Memories: is a condition in which a person’s identity and interpersonal relationships are centered on a memory of traumatic experience which is actually false, but in which the person is strongly convinced. Because the brains of young children are not as fully developed as the brains of adults, it’s interesting to consider that Jean Piaget, the well-known child psychologist, asserted that his earliest memory was of a botched kidnapping at the age of 2. He distinctly remembered details of watching his nurse try to fend off the kidnapper as he sat in his stroller, and the policeman’s uniform as he chased the kidnapper away. Thirteen years after the alleged attack, the nurse admitted to Piaget’s parents that she had fabricated the story. However, the story, told repeatedly by the nurse, crept into Piaget’s psyche and expanded until it took on a life of its own. Piaget later wrote: “I therefore must have heard, as a child, the account of this story…and projected it into the past in the form of a visual memory, which was a memory of a memory, but false” . Due to the way our brains work, remembering a kidnapping incident at the age of 2 could be nothing other than a false memory. The left inferior prefrontal lobe is not yet developed in infants . It is this lobe that is necessary for long-term memory. The complicated and sophisticated encoding necessary for remembering such an event could not occur in the infant’s brain. However, the adult brain works in a far different way. Valerie Jenks, a woman living in Idaho, was raped at the age of 14. After a few seemingly trauma-free years, she began to become depressed shortly after her marriage and the birth of her first child. In therapy, Dr. Mark Stephenson convinced her to try hypnotherapy, and after her very first session, Jenks came to believe that she’d been sexually abused by her family and friends. In Freud’s theory of “repression”, the mind involuntarily expels traumatic events from memory to avoid overpowering anxiety and trauma. Aided by the memory of her rape at age 14, Jenks created a false memory – an elaborately fabricated memory of rape and molestation by her father and other family members. These memories were “repressed memories”, said Stephenson. Further, Stephenson said she answered “yes” to many of his questions, not verbally, but by tapping the index finger of her left hand. These tappings were “body memories”, claimed Stephenson. According to him, some patients have tried to explain their physical distress as coming from repressed “body memories” of incest. Therapists have told patients that “the body remembers what the mind forgets,” and that many of the physical sensations they are experiencing during therapy (like Jenks’ finger tapping) are symptoms of forgotten childhood sexual mistreatment.

Reconstructive Memory: Bartlett’s theory of Reconstructive Memory is crucial to an understanding of the reliability of eye-witness testimony (EWT) as he suggested that recall is subject to personal interpretation dependent on our learnt or cultural norms and values, the way we make sense of our world. In other words, we tend to see and in particular interpret and recall what we see according to what we expect and assume is ‘normal’ in a given situation. Bartlett referred to these complete mental pictures of how things are expected to be as Schemas. These schemas may, in part, be determined by social values and therefore prejudice. Schemas are therefore capable of distorting unfamiliar or unconsciously ‘unacceptable’ information in order to ‘fit in’ with our existing knowledge or schemas. This can, therefore, result in unreliable eyewitness testimony. Bartlett tested this theory using a variety of stories to illustrate that memory is an active process and subject to individual interpretation or construction. Loftus drew on the ideas of Bartlett and conducted research illustrating factors which lead to inaccurate recall of eye-witness testimony. Loftus & Palmer (1974) conducted two laboratory experiments to illustrate this reconstructive memory and how this is influenced by questioning techniques used by the police. This research suggests that memory is easily distorted by questioning technique and information acquired after the event can merge with original memory causing inaccurate recall or reconstructive memory. The addition of false details to a memory of an event is referred to as conflabulation.

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