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The controversy around recovered memory focuses on whether or not recovered memories are trustworthy. Despite evidence supporting the phenomenon of recovered memories, some people believe that it is impossible to completely forget and later recover a memory. Others believe the content of recovered memories is unreliable, or that only certain types of memories can be recovered.
Over time, society has recognized and condemned violence against women and children; first with rape, then child abuse, and then child sexual abuse. This recognition, which sometimes involved actual children as victims, but more often involved adults speaking about what happened to them as children, prompted an enormous backlash by those who refused to acknowledge the extent of interpersonal violence.
As adults who recovered memories of childhood abuse later in life began to be acknowledged, abuse was further exposed in the family context, drawing the attention of those who sought to silence abuse survivors. The charged debate over the validity of recovered memories of childhood abuse that emerged in legal and political arenas came to be known, particularly by critics of recovered memory, as “The Memory Wars.”
Corroborated cases of recovered memory have been observed in legal, clinical, and other settings, with a variety of corroborating factors from documentary physical evidence to perpetrator confession. This archive compiles a selection of these cases, focusing on those with significant corroborating evidence. It is intended to serve as a resource for journalists, scholars, and students searching for examples of corroborated cases of recovered memory, and to challenge faulty claims that such documented cases do not exist.
Supportive Scientific Research
There is an ever-expanding wealth of scientific research in support of recovered memories. Recovered memories have been documented through diverse methodological studies, in a variety of academic disciplines. This page serves to catalog relevant studies by topic, as well as to direct readers to external directories of research compiled by other academics.
False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) Critique
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), founded in early 1992 and dissolving in 2019, was founded by parents in response to accusations of abuse. The FMSF sought to deny the existence and accuracy of recovered memories by asserting that there was a national epidemic of ‘False Memory Syndrome (FMS),’ a phenomenon that has never been recognized by the scientific community. The FMSF was adept at manipulating public conception of recovered memories through the media — much of the FMSF’s actions and agenda, especially its lobbying efforts against laws protecting children from abuse, were kept out of the public spotlight. These pages critique the existence of the FMSF, its unscientific assertions, and its inconsistent and troubling statements.
“What is recovered memory?”
Sivers, Schooler, and Freyd (2002, p 169) define recovered memory as: “The recollection of a memory that is perceived to have been unavailable for some period of time.” The content of recovered memories can range from regular and mundane to intense and distressing. Forgetting where you put your keys and later remembering their location is one example of a relatively mundane recovered memory. However, the phrase is colloquially associated with recovering memories of traumatic events, such as childhood abuse, witnessing violence, or personal injuries. The emotionally charged nature of such events and their impact on personal lives has fueled an intense controversy on the topic.
“What is the difference between recovered memories and false memories?”
Dr. Jennifer Freyd has described memory through two independent dimensions: Memory accuracy (historically true vs. historically false) and memory persistence (available vs. unavailable memories). Continuous memories are those which can always be recollected, and discontinuous memories are those which cannot be recollected during a certain period of one’s life, but can be recalled again at a later time. Oftentimes, these dimensions are conflated; arguments such as ‘recovered memories (discontinuous memories) are false memories’ is an example of conflation. Instead, these dimensions are independent. Discontinuous memories can be true or false, just as continuous memories can be true or false. A detailed description of these dimensions can be found on Dr. Jennifer Freyd’s website, under ‘Recovered Memory: Context and Controversy’ and ‘Two Common conceptual tangles about recovered memories.’
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