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Are Repressed Memories Real?


[♩INTRO ] Alright, think back with me for a moment — say
like, ten years back. Ten years ago today, do you remember exactly
what you were doing? I definitely don’t, and neither do most
people. We might vaguely remember what life was like,
but most of our daily memories from that long ago are just … gone. Still, some psychoanalysts would argue that
you might have uncomfortable memories from that day hiding in the back of your mind,
waiting to be rediscovered — also known as repressed memories. That used to be a really popular idea, but
now, we know these memories aren’t always what they seem. The idea of repressed memories is sometimes
thrown around in pop psychology, but it has a pretty specific definition. For one, a repressed memory isn’t something
you just haven’t thought about for years, like your first elementary school art project. And it’s also not just forgetting something,
like how you probably can’t remember what you had for breakfast three weeks ago. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast
this morning. The real idea of a “repressed memory” comes
from everybody’s favorite misguided psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud. His idea was that, if you have thoughts or
experiences that you don’t want to deal with consciously — like memories of being abused
– they’d get pushed into your unconscious mind. And Freud argued that everyone has all kinds
of desires, motivations, and memories just waiting to be uncovered. Back around the 1980s, it was common for therapists
who were into Freud’s ideas to suspect that their patients had repressed memories of trauma
or abuse. But unfortunately, some therapists might have
been a bit overzealous in finding trauma when it wasn’t actually there. Many used guided imagery techniques with their
patients, like imagining what a hypothetical abuse scenario might look like, to help them
recall those supposedly hidden memories. Which sounds horrible, and today isn’t seen
as a useful therapy for dealing with abuse. Aside from… sounding pretty unpresent, it
also looked a whole lot like how you can create false memories. Sometimes people can be bad at distinguishing
their real memories from things they just imagined happening to them — like if you think you remember something
from when you were a baby because your family has told the story tons of times. So telling people to imagine experiences makes
them more likely to misremember them as true. For patients who had been abused, it was great
that therapists were finally acknowledging how common it was and taking them seriously. But if a patient comes to your office saying
they’ve never been abused, you definitely don’t want to accidentally convince them they
were. Thanks to that imagery technique, it’s likely
that many supposedly repressed memories from around then were actually just things suggested
by well-meaning therapists. And research supports that idea. Some studies have shown that people who believe
they’ve recovered repressed memories are more likely to get false memories. For example, in a paper published in 2000
in Psychological Science, researchers studied 57 women. Some had always remembered abuse from earlier
in their lives, but others had either supposedly recovered memories of abuse or suspected they
had repressed memories. They had all these people and a control group
— people who knew they had never been abused — take a memory test. It involved remembering lists of related words,
and in other research, most people end up creating false memories and accidentally remembering
words that aren’t on the list. The results showed that people who had always
remembered their traumatic memories were about as likely as the control group to have false
memories of the missing words. But those who had recovered memories were
about 20% more likely to have the false memories from the lists. And this phenomenon happens with more significant
events, too, not only word lists. One study, published in 1999 in the Journal
of Traumatic Stress, looked at 24 people and found they could induce false memories of
some unusual life events, like breaking a window with your hand, or getting stuck in
a tree. They did this using the same guided imagery
technique that therapists would use in finding recovered memories. Another study from 1989 surveyed about 130
children whose school was attacked by a shooter. Several children remembered being at the scene
of the shooting, but weren’t actually anywhere near it. One boy even remembered walking to school,
turning back when he heard shots, and seeing someone lying on the ground … except, his
parents confirmed they were all on vacation that day. Now, it is important to remember that all
this research is correlational. No one researches repressed memories by randomly
assigning some people to experience trauma to test their memory of it. So we can’t say repressed memories are always
false, but we do know it’s really hard to demonstrate they’re reliable — and for most
people, it’s really easy to get a false memory. Without corroborating evidence, it can be
hard to distinguish a true recovered memory from a false one. Still, when it comes to trauma and abuse,
most people have continuous memories of it, so it’s important to take them seriously. And even if someone can’t prove their repressed
memories are real, having traumatic, troubling, or stressful thoughts is a good reason to
talk to a professional, anyway. No matter how much the internet and TV shows
have to say about repressed memories, like most of Freud’s ideas, they’re definitely
not as straightforward as they sound. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych. For more on the science of memory, you can
check out our video about how your memory can be tricked. [♩OUTRO ]

Glenn Chapman

100 Comments

  1. I remember a LOT, mostly abuse. I was able to suppress a good bit of it, but it has recently become a larger problem.

  2. Good thing witness testimony isn't really worth much anymore unless it's corroborated.

  3. lets see, 10 years ago exactly? I was… oh yeah, buying christmas presents no doubt. And wrapping them. No, I don't remember doing it… so you win this round. But only technically!

  4. The one experiment had four groups: control, remembered trauma, supposedly recovered memories, and those who suspected they had repressed memories. You didn't say how the last group did in the experiment.

  5. I do have repressed memories. It's a little strange. I know that the events occured, but my brain doesn't allow me to access more than that. But I know that the memories are there. I'm glad that they are repressed, but I suppose if I really wanted to know the details, I could access them again one day. But for now, my brain puts up that barrier between me and my trauma, and I allow that barrier to exist.

  6. Video: This subject is not so simple, and if someone says they've been abused, it should very much be taken seriously.
    Comments: Stop saying that abuse victims are misremembering stuff!!

    In all seriousness though, repressed memories are a big fear of mine. Granted, I'm preeeetty sure I have some paranoia knocking around in me, so it's probably that. But I still wonder if my dad hit me more times than just the one I remember as a teen. Or if he hit mom… It's scary, not being able to trust my mind.

  7. "Do you remember what you were doing exactly 10 years ago?"
    Easy, sucking at life.

  8. I have a comment that I considered not posting because it does seem a little unfair, but given the other comments on this video, I think it may actually be one of the nicest things anyone has put on here:

    Hank, are you wearing a choker in this video? It looks like you’re wearing a choker. I mean I assume it’s just a shirt with a different colored collar, but it really looks like a choker.

  9. I consciously suppressed my own memories. I remember the process I used to do it better than the memories, but I did give the memory holes "expiration" dates when the memories would come back.

    The process I used was fairly similar to Sherlock's Mind Palace but in reverse. I took the memories that were too painful for me to process and imagined being shoved into jars then placed in a cupboard. Any time the memory tried to pop up, I would imagine the jar having fallen off the shelf and I would pick it up and stick it back into the cupboard. This didn't take one or two tries, either, I spent months on setting up each memory jar and there are about a dozen of them. Each jar has its own expiration date on it when it will come open which was integrated into the process of making the jar, but once the entire thing was complete I lost conscious access to the memories until the expiration date. The only rule for the expiration dates was that it was something that could actually happen on a reasonable time scale, so one was a terrorist attack in Paris, another was my 25th birthday, that kind of thing.

  10. Is there science on the memories one cannot erase the vivid details on? Basically the opposite of this

  11. i dont have repressed memories, i think of everything everytime all da time quz im OMNISCIENT POTATO PREASE :3

  12. I don't buy the idea of repressed memories. It sounds like psychologists trying to be smart by forcing their model of psychology onto people, similar to how over-zealous police investigators can force false memories during interrogation when they're "convinced" the suspect is lying. I'm pretty good at repressing memories of unpleasant and painful past events, yet they nevertheless have a way of sneaking back into my mind.

  13. Sometimes "repressed" memories can have independent verification – like if someone else was there, or if there you wrote down your experiences immediate. I do think Freud was right, that the unconscious exists, and it processes our experiences even when our conscious mind doesn't want to deal with something, but I agree just because something exists doesn't mean we have any clear idea how it works, and can't depend on the unconscious to tell us anything except about things inside us, which don't depend on accurate objective memories.

  14. The weirdest thing that ever happened to me was, me remembering someone else's memory they'd told me. Then I remembered it as if it was my own 😂😂😂

  15. It's interesting how, I my own personal experience at least, there seems to be more of an emotional repressed memory imprint, than an actual, relativly accurate memory. That is, to remember what it felt like, rather than what happened. Of course those two are related and perhaps some part of what I remember is accurate but I know how unlikly it is that I remember what happened, although I am not in doubt about the emotional hurt, the effects of what happened to me are accurate.

  16. December 21st 2007 i was sitting on my living room couch eating crab legs while watching suit life of zack and cody AND playing pokemon pearl using an action replay. HA!

  17. the best way to describe my memory is like having a video play but having only certain parts of it be a black screen, even though I know what happens during that scene.

  18. Ah, Sigmund Freud, the most famous scientist who also thought exactly like a 14 year old teenage boy.

  19. fake memories have always been my greatest fear and it's why i can't even trust myself. sometimes painful memories would pop out of nowhere and i want to throw up bc i feel like im "playing the victim" by crying over memories that might not even exist.

  20. I've always thought about repressed memories as blocked memories. Like when my step-dad cussed me out and I remembered it had happened but could not recall any of what he had actually said later. He apologized later and I had talked to my Mom about it soon after, but I can no longer recall the actual event…

  21. It seems to me that this video failed to go into specifics to a degree where it's somewhat misleading and needs to be addressed.

  22. That doesn't make a ton of sense to me since I remember trauma extremely clearly. I mean, there's times where it's the only thing i can fixate on and it really takes me out of whatever I'm doing

  23. You can't remember what u had for breakfast that morning I can't remember that last time I ate breakfast lol

  24. I'm here to bash the Freud bashers! First, Freud got observable, measurable results with his therapy, which is more than we can say for the vast majority of psychotherapists, so he must have been doing something right. 2nd, he was experimenting with both a theory of mind and a psychotherapeutic tool at the same time, so it's important to be clear about what facet we're talking about. You seem to be confusing the efficacy of accessing repressed memories with the issue of whether they exist and/or accurately reflect the patient's history. OBVIOUSLY the tool has been grievously misused. 3rd, Freud discovered that it didn't matter whether the memories were for real–and he himself was certain that in many cases they were not–that infants actually had ongoing sexual fantasies. Freud himself didn't get that this fantasy flow came from an aspect of psyche beyond the body–though evidently he was familiar with the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the connection should've been blatantly obvious to him, and if not to him, than certainly to Jung, who should've shared the insight–but he was comfortable accepting this dynamic although he didn't understand it. (And it fits in very well with the "default mode network" in the brain that's recently been getting attention.) The apprehending of the "event" in the psyche can be permanently therapeutic whether the event happened or not. This matters very much when a patient is in pain–we can't afford to take the time to judge whether what they report is historically accurate; we have to work with however they represent things to themselves.

  25. So… what you are saying that if a psychologist is helping you uncover repressed memories, it is possible he might actually be "incepting" you?

  26. I was sexually assaulted at 6 till I was 9. It was so well repressed I don't even remember it till the first I saw a sexual assault scene online. And flash of memory start coming back. Even now I can't give u full detail of my assault. Just bits and pieces. Oh these repress memories are real. I still have the stickers given to me when he tried to lure me.

  27. I mean, I'm watching this on Christmas Day, so if I try hard enough I can probably remember 10 years ago on this day.

  28. Um… yeah… as someone who has experienced them in full blown panic attack settings they are real. I don't know about other people, but for me it was going back to the memory and putting 2+2 together to see that it was horrible because i was ignorant at the time.

  29. I don't remember what I was doing 10 hours ago. My memory is terrible. I can learn things, but whatever part of my brain deals with long term memory is pretty poorly developed.

  30. After my auto accident I can remember my childhood well, but anything new gets forgotten. Damn Traumatic Brain Injury…

  31. I remember, we had a pizza party at work and I drank tequilla for the first time :V

  32. What about people who had something traumatic happen to them, then something triggered their memory to come back into clear focus, but in the interim they never really remembered?

    Like I had a friend who had been raped when she was 10. She said that she spent her tweens and teens mostly unaware of it. She had certain unexplained avoidance's and issues, as well as regularly got nightmares about sexual violence, but didn't understand why she got them. Then when she was 19 she saw the man that did it to her on the street in her hometown. It brought everything back, and she even started having intense flashbacks that would cause her to scream. And like… she would remember a lot of specific details about the incident afterwards, mostly from the flashbacks.

    It was just from seeing his face though. No one told her that she had been raped or anything, and she had been experiencing unexplained PTSD symptoms all the while. So like…. would this be an example of an ACTUAL repressed memory?

  33. Your information would be better – aka more accurate – if you were to, you know, look at the current research on the topic. Citing literature from the 80s and 90s ignores current knowledge and does a disservice to everyone watching your video, especially those suffering from the effects of trauma and abuse. I am really disappointed in this video. I had expected better from you.

  34. I was adopted when I was around age 5, I pretty much did a memory flush to protect myself, but after the memory flush, weird things that had no correlation to my surroundings happened without prompting.

    I'd say things in Korean. One time I looked up a word from a scenario I felt was true of a word I didn't consciously know and it fit the scenario. (I didn't remember Korean grammar at the time at all either and I found out later it was also proper grammar in dialect form) Oddly enough I looked up the name of my childhood toy and though I'd forgotten the reason I named the toy that, when I looked it up, it fit the toy.

    People constantly said I was making it up, I could not remember, used all those studies against me. But then weirder stuff occurred–things like when I relearned Korean, not only did I speak it in a "child" way, which my professors corrected, but I also used dialect, which they couldn't understand how I knew since they didn't teach it and I'd not heard it since I left Korea.

    There were other things along the way–I fixated on things like glass ceilings over market places, hated motorcycles for no apparent good reason, liked apples for no good reason, etc.

    After working really hard, I remet my Korean father. And then weirder things happened that I can't explain.

    One… I brought to him, not him to me, memories I had in this gigantic mind dump, I would describe it, like my brain stitching itself back together. I brought him the list and described it. He confirmed all but one of them because he wasn't there.

    Then I went to Korea–my fixations on things like the glass ceiling over the market place–something rare within the US, in my hometowns–both of them. The motorcycles I had a fear of, they zip through the marketplace with a really loud noise. The apples I fixated on were at eye level. The flash I had of canopies… the exact color and perspective was the same. It went beyond correlation bias.

    Things I never vocalized before and recorded(wrote down) before my trip were confirmed. (I was afraid of memory corruption). The marketplace tables–exactly like in the flashes I had.

    And there were places in one of the home towns where it was like an old trauma was there. I froze in place and thought I was going, "Let's go!" in my head my body would not move no matter how hard I tried.

    In one recovered memory, I described a market, took a stab at it, to guess where it was based on a recovered piece, and asked someone in Korea to help find it. I HAD NOT gone to that market in the present. It was from a memory dump. In fact I'd accidentally refused from a somatic memory recovery. And the person up front said that they thought it was the one I thought it was.

    In the somatic memory recovery, I predicted things that were there before I saw them. I knew what was coming before I saw it.

    There are other adoptees who report similar things, too. But the anti-repressed memory movement often discounts this as made up, can't collaborate, you just put that together from somewhere else. But the thing is there were no pictures of my hometown at the time. There was no one from there that could check it for me prior, and even if I watched Korean dramas, none were set in either of those towns. So how was I so sure that those things existed before I got there? How was I so sure on the color of things?

    I don't think memory is linear, and explainable as the same sort of thing. I think more research has to be done on traumatic memory recovery. It can't be linear–because believe me, I was in the "you're making it all up" camp before my trip. I was forced to convert and believe myself after the trip. Plus there was that study where children who usually go through a memory wipe after that age of 3, were able to remember traumatic memories before the age of three where their parents said they never reported it until later. Clearly, it's not a singular story.

  35. Every time I have a dream I have false memories of things I was doing in the dream before it even starts. It really messes with me, and often makes me think the dream is real.

  36. I didn't have continuous memories of a traumatic experience, it just came back to me when discussing a vaguely related topic a few years later. I remember walking back after the incident and thinking that I didn't want to upset my parents and that might be viewed poorly for being in a situation in the first place. I told myself it didn't happen and when I woke up i would forget and I did. I "knew' it had happened I just didn't happen to actively remember it, the experience of recalling it was similar to when you see photos of your childhood and they trigger a memory you had not thought about in years.

  37. This is why we have people claiming “Mandella Effect” every time they remember something incorrectly.

  38. I'm curious as to why the video completely focused on the recall of repressed memories, leaning toward the skeptical/debunking side. Without touching on the fact that people can live through horrible trauma and forget it. Repressed memories aren't specifically about recall. When it can be documented by others and verified that a person went through trauma and the person is unable to recall said memory and did not suffer brain damage. That's a repressed memory.

  39. Alternative explanation for the increased likelihood of developing false memories: Maybe repressed stuff involves a weaker signal, and so people more sensitive to weak neural signals will recognize both real memories and random noise more often.

  40. Mine are real. There's hard evidence, and also I never went to therapy so there's no way a therapist could have implanted them. Furthermore, a hallmark of false memories is that they're recovered suddenly, and I haven't recovered mine at all. The evidence is the only way I know it happened. That and what a fucked up person I am now. And the nightmares I had for years after the incident but no longer have at all.

  41. Traumatic amnesia is as well documented as false memories. There are parts of a recent trauma I experience that I cannot remember despite the fact that it absolutely and indisputably happened. Repressed memories are as much about what's not there as what is, such as implicit memories that are tied to an event but have no cause that the person dealing with them is aware of. These can be intrusive thoughts, unexplained emotional responses to certain smells, sounds, people, places, etc, and a slew of other physiological symptoms. False memories are certainly a thing, which is why it's recommended that those with repressed memories shouldn't try to dig for them. “Delayed recall memories” or “recovered memories” are more accurate terms too.

  42. I have always been able to remember parts of my second birthday but for the longest time I couldn't remember anything from when I lived in Germany, that happened after I turned 2. After I was sexually assaulted while on active duty in 2012 I began to remember things that happened to my Yup'ik mother when my dad was stationed in Germany.

  43. Hank I love you and this channel, but this could not possibly be more wrong. As both a therapy client and psychology student, I can emphatically state repressed memories are real and there is research to back it up. In cases of extreme trauma, it’s not uncommon for survivors to block out entire experiences while consciously retaining others. It’s real, but gets a bad rap because-like much of early psychology-early studios weren’t exactly ethical.

  44. I remember very little of my childhood until I was 12. I don't know what my home life was like, but I remember a lot of school. My brother was a huge bully, and I kinda blame him for that. I remember a lot more once he left for college.

  45. i was hoping for a mention of Arthur javnov (potentially spelled completely wrong) ,..he was huge on this kind of stuff..

  46. If repressed memories are anything like having amnesia then maybe that is what is wrong with me. When I was 27 one morning I woke and could remember little of my life. I have always had short periods of lost memories, like a girlfriend who had a bad death. I would loose all memories of that whole part of my life. By the time I was 27 I had close to 30 girlfriends who died, most were horrible deaths and the whole of my life around them was gone. Sometimes the memories come and go. Like when I had a new girlfriend, I could remember all, then when someone killed her I would have amnesia again.
    Is this repressed memories? I am 54 and I keep getting memories returning. In short I keep reliving the past. To verify memories, sometime I can look up her name and time she died and others the memories fit in what I can remember. I also have DID. I have always thought my personalities were the ones taking my memories.

  47. You are trying to say that repressed memories don’t exist because of an experiment where the results said nothing of their possibility, but just pointed out that the method of retrieval wasn’t reliable? 🤨

  48. I did remembered my playmates forcing me to have sex with a boy (a playmate too) in a slightly secluded area when I was seven or eight. I was one of the oldest if not the oldest. I remembered that incident after I had my second sexual partner and before that, I had a toxic and submissive sexual relationship with a friend I'm obsessed with. What triggered it was when he (the second partner) had touched my scar on the back (something I was puzzled about for a long time months after the "playmate" incident occurred. I do know how I got my scars except that one). I happened to have a healing wound on my back when one of the kids touched them (because they're really forcing me) and it bled. I was wearing white that time and when I went home my mom asked (and I was probably scolded) what happened and I didn't say a thing about it.

  49. good old Siggi gave Cocaine to women who were suffering from what he called 'Hysteria'

  50. This video is misleading, poorly researched and frankly dangerous. Repressed memories have been documented in trauma victims since the first world war. The rate of memory repression ranges from 15 to as high as 38 percent of child abuse admissions to hospitals. These are kids who have documented, physical evidence of abuse, who do not recall the abuse as adults. The errors made by clinicians in the 1980's are tiny sliver of these cases and do not mean that memory repression is not a well documented fact.
    The Catholic Church, and several other well funded organizations with questionable motives, have pumped millions of dollars into research of "false memory syndrome":and in supporting the publications of papers (not novel research) that call into question the veracity of recovered memories. The authors often then pair the paper with a lucrative career as a paid witness in court proceedings. When you do a google scholar search (for research papers) on the topic, these repetitive papers drown out the legitimate work on the topic, giving the appearance that existence of repressed memories is in question inside the psychology community.

  51. My mom has told me stories of significant things that happened when I was a teenager and I don"t remember any of it. If I was big enough why can't I remember?

  52. Write down names and events from your childhood that you can't explain. Ask family members. Guage their reaction. Nobody wanted to be a shitty parent.

  53. Millions of persons will SWEAR that they were at a famous event even when 95% were hundreds of kilometers away at the time, as can be confirmed by travel records.

  54. From what I remember about how Freud, he didn't believe in guided imagery techniques. He believed in free association, and that the therapist should get out of the way so they don't influence the process. He also suspected later in life that his patients weren't all abused, but were remembering distorted versions of the past (distorted by their psychosexual desires).

  55. No. This is the same as a mechanic saying “do you hear that weird winding sound? Better let me take it in my shop and fix it.” Meanwhile he’s scamming you out of money

  56. I remember the old CD player with kids bop 9 and yellow and blue headphones. Resurfaced when i heard “wake me up when September ends”

  57. I didn’t remember memories from when i was 8 until my abuser walked into my apartment at 18. No one knew “what was wrong” with me for years, no one ever suggested abuse. My mom found out i had been raped at eight years old when I started screaming and went into shock and locked myself in a bathroom cupboard like i did at eight years old.

  58. Experts have done hundreds of studies over the last 3o years on repressed memories. See what they say at: https://truthaboutpseudomemories.blogspot.com/2016/08/experts-comment-on-repressed-memories.html

  59. I had forgotten about something I did and was so full of regret and shame I managed to forget about it, was writing about the events that led up to it when those memories all came flooding back. It happens.

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