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Studies debunking “False Memory Syndrome”

Crisis or creation? A systematic examination of False Memory Syndrome. (Dallam, 2001). Full Text.
Abstract: In 1992, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), an advocacy organization for people claiming to be falsely accused of sexual abuse, announced the discovery of a new syndrome involving iatrogenically created false memories of childhood sexual abuse. This article critically examines the assumptions underlying “False Memory Syndrome” to determine whether there is sufficient empirical evidence to support it as a valid diagnostic construct. Epidemiological evidence is also examined to determine whether there is data to support its advocates’ claim of a public health crisis or epidemic. A review of the relevant literature demonstrates that the existence of such a syndrome lacks general acceptance in the mental health field, and that the construct is based on a series of faulty assumptions, many of which have been scientifically disproven. There is a similar lack of empirical validation for claims of a “false memory” epidemic. It is concluded that in the absence of any substantive scientific support, “False Memory Syndrome” is best characterized as a pseudoscientific syndrome that was developed to defend against claims of child abuse.

A field study of “false memory syndrome”: Construct validity and incidence. (Hovdestad & Kristiansen, 1996).
Impact: This paper evaluates 113 survivors’ memories of childhood abuse. “Even if the finding that 3.9% of the women with a recovered memory met the criteria for FMS was misinterpreted to argue that 3.9% have false memories, the false-allegation rate would be identical to the rate of false allegations for any crime, be it rape, robbery, or homicide…. the findings may mean that FMS does not exist at all and that, as suggested by empirical research, authoritarian opposition to the equality of women and a need to deny the injustice of child abuse are all that support the notion of FMS.”

Memory, Abuse, and Science: Questioning Claims About the False Memory Syndrome Epidemic. (Pope, 1996). Full Text.
Impact: Pope evaluates the claims surrounding False Memory Syndrome, including the criteria of FMS: “objectively false” memories, an “entire personality” or “lifestyle,” and similarity to personality disorders. He makes clear the lack of evidence and proper scientific methodology backing FMS, including issues with informed consent, incorrectly inferred causality, confounding factors, and lack of careful scientific examination.

(Mis) representations of the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse in the courts. (Brown, 2000)
Impact: This study addresses the (mis) representations made by pro-false memory attorneys and expert witnesses in court regarding the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Examining the testimony revealed that such pro-false memory testimony was based solely on a partial understanding of retrospective data and that pro-false memory experts do not cite the more recent prospective data. Reviewing the totality of the scientific evidence demonstrates that such pro-false memory testimony is inaccurate and has the potential of misleading the jury.

The “false memory” defense: Using disinformation and junk science in and out of court. (Whitfield, 2001).
Impact: Accused, convicted and self-confessed child molesters and their advocates have crafted a strategy that tries to negate their abusive, criminal behavior, which we can call a “false memory” defense. Each of 22 of the more commonly used components of this defense is described and discussed with respect to what the science says about them. Armed with this knowledge, survivors, their clinicians, and their attorneys will be better able to refute this defense of disinformation.

False memory syndrome: undermining the credibility of complainants in sexual offences. Raitt & Zeedyk, 2003).
Impact: This article argues that the concept of ‘False Memory Syndrome’ serves to silence the voices of women and children attempting to speak out about abuse. “The courtroom use of FMS is the latest in that tradition” of “numerous rules of evidence and procedure that have had the effect of rendering the testimony of women and children incredible.”

Feminist ethics in the practice of science: The contested memory controversy as an example. (Freyd & Quina, 2000)
Impact: This paper discusses some of the ways that science has been misapplied in the debate over delayed recall of childhood abuse. A feminist ethical perspective is applied to this debate, and guidelines to minimize further misapplications of science are suggested.

A meta/multi-discursive reading of "false memory syndrome." (Schuman & Galvez, 1996).
Abstract: Discusses the construct of false memory syndrome (FMS) from a feminist viewpoint. FMS is considered in the context of larger contemporary western cultural trends, including antifeminism, the deconstruction of mental illness, antipsychiatry, and the postmodern deconstruction of truth and subjectivity. In these contexts, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation emerges as an accomplice of the mental health establishment and a leading force in the heteropatriarchal backlash against women.

False Memories And The Science Of Credibility: Who Gets To Be Heard? (Salter & Blizzard, 2022). Full Text.
Impact: This article discusses the backlash against child protection investigations and criminal prosecutions of child sexual abuse cases as context to ‘False Memory Syndrome.’ “Despite the passionate claims of FMSF advocates to rationality and science, false memory syndrome was never accepted in psychiatric diagnostic systems. Nonetheless, as a concept, it leant pseudo-scientific heft to the denials of parents (often fathers) accused of sexual abuse by adult children.”

The recovered memory controversy: A representative case study. (Colangelo 2009).
Impact: This article provides an overview of the central factors in the longstanding debate surrounding recovered memories of childhood abuse. A detailed clinical case study involving independent corroboration of memories of childhood sexual abuse recovered during treatment, which the author believes provides additional support for the potential veracity of recovered memories.

Introduction: Exposing misinformation concerning child sexual abuse and adult survivors. (Whitfield, Silberg, & Fink, 2001).
Impact: Despite extensive research findings on the long-term effects and consequences of child sexual abuse, misinformation on this topic is widespread. A number of well known and respected researchers examine controversial and unproven claims such as the “false memory syndrome” in the hope of countering misinformation.

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