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What's wrong with believing in repression?: A review for legal professionals


That's the title of this thought provoking article in the current issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and the Law by August Piper, Linda Lillevik,and Roxanne Kritzer. The abstract:

Some courts in recent years have tarnished their credibility by willingly and blindly adopting the theory of repressed memory. Such acceptance can destroy the reputations of falsely accused individuals, and, by failing to pay due attention to scientific evidence, gives credence to pseudoscience and demeans the scientific method. This paper was written to inform judges and attorneys about the relevant evidence, which shows that: (a) the concepts of repressed and recovered memory are not generally accepted in the psychological and psychiatric community; (b) the studies cited to support these concepts reveal significant flaws; (c) much empirical evidence has been accumulated against the theory of repression; (d) the studies using the best methodology offer the least support for the repression hypothesis; and (e) there is no evidence that recovered memories accurately reveal the specifics of long-ago events. Repressed- and recovered-memory theory is not supported by science.

As mentioned before, repressed memories are a dark chapter in the marriage between psychological science and law. Back in the 1980s, repressed memories were held as cutting-edge science and readily embraced by our culture and legal institutions. Repressed memories grow out of the last epoch of Freudian psychoanalytic thinking. It framed the way psychological scientists and common folk viewed behavior and was heralded for pealing away outdated notions of free will and responsibility though an understanding of unconscious drives. Somewhat like what neurolaw claims to do these days.

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