I probably could put this under its own title, but it is quite relevant to the Beck discussion. Chris over at Mixing Memory has long had one of my favorite blogs. He frequently writes very nice explanations of the state of the art in cognitive science. Today he has a write-up on false memories, which he calls the "Intelligent Design theory of Cognitive Science." It's a great post and should be of extra interest to those following the Beck book.
I may be posting on this topic from time to time. Especially as controversies pop up. I've put up a single page that'll include links to all the stories I do on the book.
I asked Chris about some of the studies that seemed to support repressed memories. He's kindly going to go on about the positive studies and why he feels they are flawed. In the meantime he has up today an interesting post about the origins of the idea of repressed memories going back to Freud.
Repressed memory proponents often reference Freud as the origin of the repression hypothesis. Since most experimental psychologists don't really like Freud, and since they've probably never read him, they're probably more than willing to believe that it was he who came up with such a bad idea. However, I'm an experimental psychologist who has read Freud (because studying the history of psychology is a bit of a hobby of mine), and I can say with certainty that the current conception of repression held by some psychologists is not Freud's. However, you don't have to take my word for it. Read what the man wrote...
Now I'll admit I really dislike Freud, Jung and most of the psycho-analysts. (Although I've read far more Jung than Freud) Still I have to they are often made the scapegoats for everything bad in psycho-analysis studies. Frequently they are ascribed ideas that they never even held.
Freud is interesting in the context of repressed memories precisely because of his studies on them. Whether right or wrong, he found that when he started using hypnosis in his studies that his female patients began reporting stories of incest with their fathers. When he would investigate the stories would turn out not to be actual events but subconscious fantasies about their fathers. This led to some of Freud's famous comments about women and fantasies.
Now I tend to distrust Freud a lot. For one, he tended not to do a good job of getting fair samples. (i.e. he worked with the mentally ill and extrapolated from them a tad too much at times) Second, perhaps I'm wrong, but I always found him a bit misogynist. (Others can take me to task on that - that's just how it appears from my readings) I also tend to think that a lot of his work is more akin to interpreting a a book in literature class rather than science. As such it is interesting from a literary point of view, but fairly controversial as science. Still he did popularize many important ideas, such as the notion of the subconscious.
His work on hysteria and repressed memories are interesting in the current context though. I'd once again urge caution in trusting him too much. But they provide the "origin" in modern thought for the controversy.
Chris has up a new post regarding false memories. He was kind enough to answer my questions regarding positive empirical evidence for trauma inducing repressed memories.
I don't think my second post on the topic really involved being kind. In fact, I'd say you were the one being kind. It was unfair of me to focus on evidence from one side (a criticism I used against the proponents of repression), and you were good enough to call me on that without making it look like I was being as unfair as I was. I'm glad you did, or I might have neglected that evidence, and even though it's just a blog, it still wouldn't make me a very good scientist to do so. Thanks again.
Those interested in the science of memories and especially the phenomena of false memories might wish to visit Elizabeth Loftus' web site. She's done a lot of the empirical research on memories and has up most of her important papers on the topic. One of the better ones is "Make Believe Memories" from American Psychologist. (Note the article starts about the fourth page down -- the start of the PDF is a writeup about the author)
Over at By Common Consent Amy takes a different view of the data.
A few other resources. Jim Hopper has a page of resources on recovered memories. He argues that lost memories after abuse is not uncommon. An other page is his frequent collaborator Bessel van der Kolk who has up most of his papers along with some related ones.
Unfortunately I'm not an expert in these fields. I've been reading through some of van der Kolk's papers and I'll admit that thus far I'm not that convinced. But I may simply be selecting the wrong papers. (Also recognize that my background is physics - we're kind of sticklers on experimental methods and frequently criticize the softer sciences for their methodologies)
Chris once again provided some interesting answers to the above, this time over at By Common Consent.
First of all, it is not well-documented that repetitive abuse produces different types of memories than single-incident abuse. The only study that actually shows this is Terr's own, and the flaws in her study have been thoroughly detailed in peer reviewed publications. Ultimately, it suffers from the same problems that all of the retropsective studies on recovered memories do (age confounds, bad interview questions, etc.). What's more, when studies show that people who were abused over time (Williams, for instance, showed that people who said they had forgotten the indexed incident of abuse were likely to have been abused over time) forget one incident, they are not showing that Type II traumaitic memories are different, but the same! We would expect that long-term trauma would produce interference for single incidents.
van der Kolk's work, by the way, demonstrates nothing more than that people remember more sensory details for traumatic memories, a fact that we would expect from research showing that increased level of arousal produces better memories for the central details of the event. It's also not surprising that he finds people who have little narrative content in their traumatic memories, because increased arousal decreases attention to context, making narrative difficult to produce. Most of van der Kolk's work is with single-incident abuse, and a large portion of it with patients who were under general anaesthesia, meaning that we can't learn much about memory for Type II trauma from his work, or even about traumatic memory in general, because patients awakening from GA are dazed and confused as it is.
It seemed appropriate to put up Chris' most recent post on false memory syndrome. This discusses the experimental evidence for repressed memories.