Some of our memories are true, some are a mixture of fact and fantasy, and some are false -- whether those memories seem to be continuous or seem to be recalled after a time of being forgotten or not thought about.
Then how can we know if our memories are
The professional organizations agree: the only way to distinguish between
true and false memories is by external corroboration.
What could cause a person to believe sincerely in something
that never happened? We have posted on this site both
scientific views, derived from suggestibility and influence studies, and
insights provided by retractors -- individuals who once accepted as true
certain memories that they now believe to have been false.
Does it matter if someone has a false belief about the past? Most of the time it doesn't. Sometimes, however, false beliefs cause great harm, not only to the people who hold them, but also to others. This site provides information about how some false beliefs about memory have seriously harmed the believers, their families and other innocent individuals.
What are false memories? Because of the reconstructive nature of memory, some memories may be distorted through influences such as the incorporation of new information. There are also believed-in imaginings that are not based in historical reality; these have been called false memories, pseudo-memories and memory illusions. They can result from the influence of external factors, such as the opinion of an authority figure or information repeated in the culture. An individual with an internal desire to please, to get better or to conform can easily be affected by such influences.
What is the recovered-memory controversy about? The information on this site focuses on the current controversy about the accuracy of adult claims of "repressed" memories of childhood sexual abuse that are often made decades after the alleged events, for which there is no external corroboration. The controversy is not about whether children are abused. Child abuse is a serious social problem that requires our attention. Neither is the controversy about whether people may not remember past abuse. There are many reasons why people may not remember something: childhood amnesia, physical trauma, drugs or the natural decay of stored information. The controversy is about the accuracy of claims of recovered "repressed" memories of abuse. The consequences profoundly affect the law, the way therapy is practiced, families and people's lives.Harrison Pope, Jr., M.D. informally discusses the controversy in an interview entitled, "Recovered Memories:" Recent Events and Review of Evidence.
An article from the Skeptical Inquirer of March 1995 also
provides an overview of the problem:
Elizabeth Loftus, Skeptical Inquirer (1995) 19 (2), p. 20.