Searching for repressed memory

Nebr Symp Motiv. 2012;58:121-47. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-1195-6_4.


This chapter summarizes the work of my research group on adults who report either repressed, recovered, or continuous memories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) or who report no history of CSA. Adapting paradigms from cognitive psychology, we tested hypotheses inspired by both the "repressed memory" and "false memory" perspectives on recovered memories of CSA. We found some evidence for the false memory perspective, but no evidence for the repressed memory perspective. However, our work also suggests a third perspective on recovered memories that does not require the concept of repression. Some children do not understand their CSA when it occurs, and do not experience terror. Years later, they recall the experience, and understanding it as abuse, suffer intense distress. The memory failed to come to mind for years, partly because the child did not encode it as terrifying (i.e., traumatic), not because the person was unable to recall it.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Comprehension
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Emotions
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology