Repressed Memory - A Cultural Symptom?
2007 12 27

By Ashley Pettus | harvardmagazine.com


Are some experiences so horrific that the human brain seals them away, only to recall them years later? The concept of “repressed memory,” known by the diagnostic term dissociative amnesia, has long fueled controversy in psychiatry. During the 1980s, claims of childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memories led to a spate of highly publicized court cases. A number of the supposed victims retracted their allegations in the early 1990s, admitting that they had been swayed by therapeutic techniques. Yet the scientific validity of dissociative amnesia has remained contested ground.

In a recent study, professor of psychiatry Harrison Pope, co-director of the Biological Psychiatry Lab at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, put “repressed memory” to the test of time. He reasoned that if dissociative amnesia were an innate capability of the brain—akin to depression, hallucinations, anxiety, and dementia—it would appear in written works throughout history. In collaboration with associate professor of psychiatry James Hudson, Michael Parker, a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, Michael Poliakoff, director of education programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and research assistant Matthew Boynes, Pope set out to find the earliest recorded example of a “repressed memory.”

The survey yielded various nineteenth-century instances: best known were A Tale of Two Cities (1859), by Charles Dickens, in which Dr. Manette forgets that he is a physician after his incarceration in the Bastille, and Captains Courageous (1896), by Rudyard Kipling, in which “Penn,” a former minister, loses his memory after his family perishes in a flood and recalls that trauma only after being involved in a collision at sea. But the survey turned up no examples from pre-modern sources.

The researchers then offered a $1,000 reward—posted in three languages on more than 30 Internet websites and discussion groups—to the first person to identify a case of dissociative amnesia in any work of fiction or nonfiction prior to 1800. They received more than 100 responses, but none met the “repressed memory” criteria. Although many early texts describe ordinary forgetfulness caused by natural biological processes, as well as instances of individuals forgetting happy memories and even their own identities, there were no accounts of an inability to recall a traumatic experience at one point and the subsequent recovery of that memory.

In a report of their findings published in Psychological Medicine, Pope and his colleagues concluded that the absence of dissociative amnesia in works prior to 1800 indicates that the phenomenon is not a natural neurological function, but rather a “culture-bound” syndrome rooted in the nineteenth century. They argued that dissociative amnesia falls into the diagnostic category “pseudo-neurological symptom” (or “conversion disorder”)—a condition that “lacks a recognizable medical or neurological basis.”

The authors have also refuted a number of alternative hypotheses that might explain their survey results. For instance, they argued, the fact that pre-nineteenth- century societies may have conceptualized memory differently than we do cannot account for the lack of recorded descriptions of dissociative amnesia. “Our ancestors had little understanding about delusions and hallucinations,” Pope points out. “They didn’t know about dopamine in the brain or things we now know cause paranoia or auditory hallucinations, but descriptions of hallucinations [appear] in literature for hundreds of years and from all over the world.” Similarly, “If an otherwise lucid individual spontaneously develops complete amnesia for a serious traumatic event, such as being raped or witnessing the death of relations or friends,” the researchers explained, “a description of such a case would surely be recognizable, even through a dense veil of cultural interpretation” such as spirit possession or some other supernatural event.

What, then, accounts for “repressed memory’s” appearance in the nineteenth century and its endurance today? Pope and his colleagues hope to answer these questions in the future. “Clearly the rise of Romanticism, at the end of the Enlightenment, created fertile soil for the idea that the mind could expunge a trauma from consciousness,” Pope says. He notes that other pseudo-neurological symptoms (such as the female “swoon”) emerged during this era, but faded relatively quickly. He suspects that two major factors helped solidify “repressed memory” in the twentieth-century imagination: psychoanalysis (with its theories of the unconscious) and Hollywood. “Film is a perfect medium for the idea of repressed memory,” he says. “Think of the ‘flashback,’ in which a whole childhood trauma is suddenly recalled. It’s an ideal dramatic device.”

Shortly after publication of their paper, the investigators awarded the $1,000 prize to the nominator of Nina, an opera by Dalayrac and Marsollier performed in Paris in 1786. (Forgetting that she saw her lover apparently lying dead after a duel, the heroine waits for him daily at an appointed spot. When the young man reappears, Nina first seems to recognize him, then doubts his identity, and only slowly accepts him for who he is.) Pope says he and his colleagues were a few years off their threshold of 1800, but he believes their argument holds: “The challenge falls upon anyone who believes that repressed memory is real to explain its absence for thousands of years.”

Article from: http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/01/repressed-memory.html



Related Articles
Mind Control Slavery and the New World Order
Monarch Mind Control
History of MK Ultra
Subliminal Advertising and Modern Day Brainwashing
Cyborg Superman, Transhumanism and the Nephilim
The Case Against Dr. Sidney Siemer
The War on Consciousness
The Mind Has No Firewall
Mass Mind Control Through Network Television
Forces of the Unconscious Mind


Latest News from our Front Page

VOTER FRAUD: Was the Scottish Independence Referendum Rigged to Fail?
2014 09 20
Was voter fraud committed during the Scottish Independence referendum? It has been confirmed that the names of 10 people were already crossed off a voter list prior them voting inside a polling station. According to reports, the Glasgow City Council confirmed that there were ten cases of suspected electoral fraud occurring at polling stations following the Scottish referendum vote on the 18th. ...
Scandinavians Split Over Syrian Influx
2014 09 20
This exemplifies the insanity of Scandinavia. The narrow victory of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party in Sweden’s elections last Sunday marked a broad shift in its politics. But a new coalition government is unlikely to reconsider one of the country’s most challenging policies: its response to the Syrian civil war. Sweden has taken an open-door approach to people fleeing the conflict, ...
The Israel lobby in United Kingdom - Who Runs Britain?
2014 09 20
Who runs British politics? Who in Britain supports all the wars the UK has been involved in? The Israel Lobby in the UK - Full Documentary By Peter Oborne from Dispatchees Links from Youtube: Zionist attack on western civilization Reed Douglas - The Controversery of Zion Source: youtube.com The cowardice at the heart of UK relationship with Israel Close friends and allies: Prime Minister David Cameron ...
Another Palestinian Mass Grave Discovered, Evidence of Massacre
2014 09 20
Another mass grave discovered, evidence of 1948 Judaic holocaust by bullets, knives and bludgeons against Palestinians. The Israeli military admits to have been surprised by the abilities of Palestinian resistance fighters during its recent war on the Gaza Strip. A top Israeli military official says he’s impressed by the training of Palestinian resistance fighters from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups. He ...
Russian Media to be owned by Russians
2014 09 20
Comment: Russian media by and for Russians? Wow, revolutionary! I guess they are stick of foreign oligarchs and zionist with dual citizenship. Duma seeks limits on foreign ownership of Russian media companies A group of opposition lawmakers have prepared a bill that orders Russian mass media companies to have at least 80 percent of their stock held by Russian investors. The bill is backed ...
More News »