Memories Improbable: "Recovered Memories"
Travis Gee, M.A.
Paper presented to the Department of
Psychology, Carleton University, in
partial fulfillment of the
requirements of the
The recent phenomenon of "recovered memories" of childhood trauma -
particularly childhood sexual abuse - has sparked a debate about the extent to which these
recollections are in fact confabulations. A careful examination of recovered-memory
literature leads to conclusions opposite to those commonly drawn from it. In particular,
an absence of memory for such trauma is not typically attributable to repression, nor are a
host of "symptoms" a certain sign of an abusive past. However, a variety of well-known
phenomena in the area of memory and suggestibility are reviewed, with reference to a
reconstructive model of memory. Literature is reviewed which shows that numerous
practitioners provide a setting in which susceptible individuals are likely to confabulate a
history of sexual abuse in the hope of alleviating symptoms.
Special thanks are due first of all to my wife, Chantelle, whose patience has been sorely
tested by the intense process of preparing this document. I also wish to thank my
advisor, John Logan, for his support and his insights into the nature of cognitive
processes. Much appreciation is also due to Kathy Belicki, John Kihlstrom, Russ Powell,
Daniel Schacter, Ralph Underwager, Hollida Wakefield, and John Weekes for their
willing help and preprints of current work; to the Ottawa Womens' Place, for their
assistance in obtaining numerous copies of key articles; to Kim Matheson and Cheryl
Burgess, for their assistance in obtaining Dr. Spanos' final work; to Peter Barach, Ian
Begg, Peter and Pamela Freyd and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Evan
Harrington, Laura Pasley, Zoe Paddy Johnson, Winston Walleans and other members of
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