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A New Solution to the Recovered Memory Debate

by Richard J. McNally, Elke Geraerts
Perspectives on Psychological Science ()

Abstract

The controversy regarding recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has been characterized by two perspectives. According to one perspective, some people repress their memories of abuse because these experiences have been so emotionally traumatic, and they become capable of recalling the CSA only when it is psychologically safe to do so many years later. According to the other per- spective, many reports of recovered memories of sexual abuse are false memories, often inadvertently fostered by therapists. In this article, we provide evidence for a third interpretation that applies to a subset of people reporting recollections of CSA; it does not require the concepts of re- pression, trauma, or false memory. These people did not experience their CSA as traumatic; they either failed to think about their abuse for years or forgot their previous recol- lections, and they recalled their CSA spontaneously after encountering reminders outside of psychotherapy. Their recovered memories are corroborated at the same rate as those of people who never forgot their abuse. Hence, re- calling CSA after many years is not the same thing as having recalled a previously repressed memory of trauma.

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