False memory syndrome is characterized by the presence of false memories which can appear both spontaneously and induced. It is a syndrome because it refers to a set of elements characteristic of a given situation, in which case the evocation of the existence of facts is only recognized by the person who evokes them.
It is neither a disease nor a disorder, As it has not been recognized as a clinical category by specialized international organizations. However, the false memory syndrome has emerged significantly in scientific and legal research, as a result of various controversies and controversies generated in these contexts. Below we will see some details about the characteristics and history of false memory syndrome.
False memory syndrome: what is it?
In the 19th century, the first public hypotheses on false memories were made by Sigmund Freud, Who proposed that a fundamental, repressed trauma that passed in childhood caused the psychosomatic symptoms of the adult women he was caring for.
Subsequently, Sigmund Freud himself altered his theory and spoke of these memories as a series of fantasies in the underlying traumatic events, and therefore offered an interpretation of his theory of psychosexual development.
Later and with the development of different psychotherapeutic approaches, a large part of clinical approaches they were based on the belief that the repressed trauma existed and likely to be recalled. In other words, the intention was to present the traumatic experiences of childhood through different techniques, ranging from hypnosis to classical individual therapy.
Over time, all of the above began to be widely questioned, due to the possibility of creating a suggestive environment where the person ends up evoking memories of experiences that never happened or bringing up distorted way.
The above has happened in part as a result of studies of how our memory works. For example, cognitive science has told us that, far from being a kind of hard drive that stores and hides memories, our memory is rather a reconstructive and reproductive system. It is not infallible, it builds and changes over time and through our own stories, interactions and experiences; thus, it is subject to errors and distortions.
False memories: types and characteristics
A false memory, or a false memory, is any memory relation in which there is a partial or total difference with the facts of interest (Pinchansky, Víquez and Zeledón, 2004). In other words, these are memories that are remembered that haven’t really happened yet, or that they have been significantly deformed.
They are images from the past that have no objective existence (their existence cannot be corroborated by third party testimonies), but that a person can evoke by assuring that they occurred as reported. For the same reason, these are memories that can elicit an important and meaningful emotional experience in the person reporting them. Its conformation does not necessarily depend on forgetting, Although this may be closely related to this.
There are two basic types of false memories, spontaneous memories and implanted memories.
They are generated as a result of the internal workings of memory, but this operation it may be unintentionally evoked by a foreign influence, For example by means of a request from an outside person to clearly report a fact.
They result from a person’s exposure to false information, which is presented in a way that is consistent and logical with the person’s knowledge patterns. It comes from a third informative element, Which can be a comment made by someone, or for example by a leading question.
In this case, the third information element is presented with the intention of causing or forcing recognition of a false event. In other words, implanted false memories, unlike spontaneous memories, are created on purpose by someone who is not the person bringing them back.
False memories implanted they were notably studied by the American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. The results of his investigations have had a significant impact on the judicial processes of the penal system.
Pinchanski, Víquez and Zeledón (2004) following Brainerd and Reyna (1995), tell us that the general mechanisms of conformation of false memories, as well as in true memories, depend mainly on the following elements:
- The type of information stored (Common sense or complex information).
- The memorization mode (oral, tactile, auditory, visual or combined).
- The timing of the assessment memory (whether immediate or long after the event has occurred).
- The procedure for evoking memory (by recognition or by free memory).
In turn, these elements they depend on both cognitive and socio-cultural mechanisms, Where the development of memory is combined with power relations that are established in a given context. For example, in the criminal context, asking a lawyer or prosecutor to recall a particular event can be a trigger to create a spontaneous false memory.
Additionally, psychiatrist Janet Boakes (1999), who is one of the pioneers in studies of false memory syndrome (especially with regards to memories of child sexual abuse), suggests that this syndrome occurs to a large extent. following the suggestion produced in the psychotherapeutic context.
According to Boakes, many people who claim to have recovered memories of a previous experience of sexual abuse, which cannot be corroborated by evidence outside the person themselves, do so in a therapeutic process, which the same author attributes practices, beliefs and influence of the professional.
- Foundation of False Memory Syndrome (2018). Memory and reality. Accessed August 15, 2018.Available at http://www.fmsfonline.org.
- Pinchanski, S., Víquez, I. and Zeledón, C. (2004). Imposed memories. Med. Leg. Costa Rica, 21 years old (2) [Versión En línea]. Accessed August 15, 2018.Available at http://www.scielo.sa.cr/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1409-00152004000200004.
- Boakes, J. (1999). He complains of sexual misconduct. In Heaton-Armstrong, A., Shepherd, E. and Wolchover, D. Analyze the evidence. Blackstone Press: London.