Three Sources of Age Regression Material Scrutinised

As three of the biggest contributors to the field of R2C hypnotherapy, I chose the literary work of Cal Banyan, a well known video of Gil Boyne using R2C on a volunteer and the OMNI Hypnosis Handbook and Trainers Handbook.

Because of copyright infringements the above material was unable to be reproduced, but the comments are fair and I am happy to stand by any and if challenged, present the source data being used as examples of their schools of thought and approaches.



 An evidence-based approach

 Steven Jay Lynn and Irving Kirsch

The standard responses you encounter from the staunchest proponents of R2C is along the lines of; the research is outdated, there's counter research, it's no less anecdotal, R2C works and there's thousands of examples to prove it, they don't understand proper R2C or haven't been trained properly, and so on.

‘Much of the hoopla can be attributed to ….the possible creation of multiple or dissociated personalities by the use of hypnosis and other suggestive procedures … (see Lynn & McConkey, 1998). P200

I find this is a real problem with the R2C community. For all the best will in the world encouraging confabulation or fantasising can be dangerous, similarly clients lie on their intake assessments and forms and this could provide a platform to exacerbate existing psychological issues.

Despite the increased awareness of the problems of false recall associated with hypnosis, our experience indicates that even today, therapists known to be experienced in the use of hypnosis are called on by potential patients or their therapists to assist in the retrieval of forgotten or repressed memories. Compliance with this can lead to the production of new material that becomes part of the memory structure of the patient. However, knowledge of the nature and malleability of memory indicates that this risky procedure may result in the iatrogenic (resulting from the activity of the healthcare provider) production of false memories (Lynn & McConkey, 1998; Lynn & Nash 1994) p200-201

Because their is no explicit leading of clients during the process of 'uncovering' the hypnotist automatically discounts the notion that implicit suggestions from the operator may produce false results. However as can be seen in numerous cases, including the Gil Boyne/Bunny video their not only is plenty of explicit suggestions taking place, the context in which the whole session is framed, the reasons for pursuing a relatively innocuous issue and turning it into something much worse.

Additional research (stated below) indicates that a client requesting assistance in memory retrieval, certainly may not be helped by hypnosis, but the process will as stated, lend to the creation of false memories.

The Research Base 201-204

‘Today there is consensus among contemporary cognitive scientists that everyday memories are fallible, quirky and reconstructive in nature (Lynn & McConkey 1998) p201

‘Even in the absence of a hypnotic induction, it is possible to create complex memories of events that never occurred. Studies with college students have shown that approximately 20% to 50% report experiencing such fictitious events as (a) being lost in a shopping mall (Loftus & Pickrell 1995); (b) being hospitalised overnight for a high fever and possible ear infection, accidentally spilling a bowl of punch on the parents of the bride at a wedding reception, and evacuating a grocery store when the overhead sprinkler system erroneously activated (Hyman, Husbands and Billings 1995); (c) experiencing a serious animal attack, serious indoor accident, serious outdoor accident, a serious medical procedure, and being injured by another child (Porter, Yuille & Lehman 1999); (d) being bullied as a child (Mazzoni, Loftus, Seitz and Lynn 1999) and (e) taking a ride in a hot air balloon (Wade, Garry, Read and Lindsay 2002).

Hypnosis in no way obviates the hazards of memory distortion. To the contrary, hypnosis may exacerbate the problem (Lynn and Nash, 1994) as the following points make plain 9see Lynn et al. 2003)

  • Hypnosis increases the sheer volume of recall, resulting in more incorrect as well as correct information. When response production is controlled, hypnotic recall is no more accurate than nonhypnotic recall (Erdelyi 1994 review of 34 studies; Steblay & Bothwell, 1994, review of 24 studies) and results in increased confidence for responses designated as guesses during a prior waking test (Whitehouse, Dinges, Orne, & Orne,1988)
  • Hypnosis produces more recall errors, more intrusions of uncued errors, and higher levels of memories for false information relating to nonhypnotic methods (Steblay & Bothwell, 1994).
  • False memories are associated with hypnotic responsiveness. Although highly suggestible individuals tend to report more false memories than do low hypnotizable persons, even relatively nonhypnotizable participants, including witnesses of live and videotaped events, report false memories (Lynn, Myers & Malinoski, 1997)
  • Research (see Spanos, 1996; Steblay & Bothwell, 1994) indicates that hypnotized participants are as least as likely as non-hypnotized participants to be misled in their recall by leading questions and sometimes exhibit recall deficits compared with nonhypnotized participants. There are also indications that highly hypnotizable persons are particularly prone to memory errors in response to misleading information.
  • In general hypnotized individuals are more confident about their recall accuracy than are nonhypnotiszed individuals (Steblay & Bothwell 1994). Furthermore, an association between hypnotisability and confidence has been well documented, particularly in hypnotized participants (Steblay & Bothwell, 1994). Confidence effects are not always present and are not universally large. However, hypnosis does not selectively increase confidence in accurate memories. At times, hypnotized participants can be very confident in false memories.
  • Even when participants are warned about possible memory problems associated with hypnotic recollections, they continue to report false memories during and after hypnosis, although some studies indicate that warnings have the potential to reduce the rate of pseudomemories, in hypnotised and non-hypnotised individuals (Lynn, Lock, Loftus, Lilienfield & Krackow, 2003).
  • Some writers (D.P Brown, Scheflin, & Hammond, 1998; Hammond et al, 1995) have advocated the use of hypnosis to recover memories of emotional or traumatic experiences. Contrary to this position, seven studies (see Lynn et al., 1997) that compared hypnotic versus non-hypnotic memory in the face of relatively emotionally arousing stimuli (e.g. films of shop accidents, depictions of fatal stabbings, a mock assassination, videotape of an actual murder) yielded an unambiguous conclusion: Hypnosis does not improve recall of emotionally arousing events nor does arousal level affect hypnotic recall.
  • Hypnosis does not necessarily yield more false memories than do nonhypnotic procedures that are highly suggestive and leading in nature (Lynn et al. 1997). Indeed, any procedure that conveys the expectation that accurate memories can be easily recovered is likely to increase the sheer volume of memories and bolster confidence in inaccurate as well as accurate memories. Scoboria, Mazzoni, Kirsch and Milling’s (2002) research revealed that the induction of hypnosis and using leading interview procedures each had a negative effect on participants’ recall.
  • Although hypnosis is often used to facilitate the experience of age regression, it can distort memories of early life events. Nash, Drake, Wiley, Khalsa and Lynn (1986) attempted to corroborate the memories of participants who had been part of an earlier age regression experiment. This experiment involved age regressing hypnotized and role playing (control) participants to age 3 to a scene in which they were in the soothing presence of their mothers. During the experiment, participants reported the indentity of their transitional objects (e.g. blankets, teddy bears). Third part verification (parent report) of the accuracy of recall was obtained for 14 hypnotised participants and 10 control participants. Hypnotic participants were less able than control participants to identify the transitional objects actually used. Hypnotic participants’ hypnotic recollections matched their parents reports only 21% of the time, whereas control participants reports were corroborated by their parents 70% of the time.

Sivec, Lynn and Malinoski (1997) age regressed participants to the age of 5 and suggested that they played with a Cabbage Patch Doll if they were a girl and a He-Man toy if they were a boy. (These toys were not released until two or three years after the target time of the age-regression suggestion). Half of the participants received hypnotic age-regression instructions and half received suggestions to age regress that were not administered in a hypnotic context. Whereas none of the nonhypnotised persons were influenced by the suggestion, 20% of the hypnotised participants rated the memory as real and were confident that the event occurred at the age to which they were regressed.

  • The search for traumatic memories can extend to well before birth (see Mills & Lynn, 2000). Past-life regression therapy is based on the premise that traumas that occurred in previous lives contribute to current psychological and physical symptoms. For example, psychiatrist Brian Weiss (1988) published a widely publicised series of cases focusing on patients who were hypnotised and age regressed to go back to the origin of a present day problem. When patients were regressed, they reported events that Weiss interpreted as having their source in previous lives.

What are we to make of vivid and realistics reports of past lives? Is the information recovered from a past life reliable? If so, it would constitute strong evidence that hypnosis was an effective age-regression technique and that past lives were indeed a reality. However the research bears out neither possibility. Spanos, Menary, Gabora, DuBreuil and Dewhirst (1991) determined that the information participants provided about specific periods during their hypnotic age regression was almost invariably incorrect. For example one participant who was regressed to ancient times claimed to be Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome in 50BC, even though the designations of BC and AD were not adopted until centuries later, and even though Julius Caesar died decades prior to the first Roman Emperor. Spanos et al. (1991) informed some participants that past-life identities were likely to be of a different gender, culture and race from that of the present personality, whereas other participants received no prehypnotic information about past life identities. Participants past life experiences were elaborate, conformed to induced expectancies about past life identities (e.g. gender and race), and varied in terms of the prehypnotic information participants received about the frequency of child abuse during past historical periods. In summary, hypnotically induced past-life expectancies are fantasies constructed from available cultural narratives about past lives and known or surmised facts regarding specific historical periods, and as well as cues present in the hypnotic situation (Spanos, 1996).

Why Does Hypnosis Increase False Memory Risk p204

A free flow of imagination and fantasy is a common response to a hypnotic induction. In fact one of the central demands of hypnosis is to fantasise and imagine along with suggested events to relinquish a critical, analytical stance in favour of the direct experience of suggested events (Lynn, Martin & Frauman, 1996). Guided imagery, even when hypnosis is not used, warrants concern because people frequently confuse real and imagined memories, particularly when memories are initially hazy or unavailable (Hyman & Pentland, 1996). A sizable body of research has shown that simply having participants imagine an event can lead to the formation of false memories. Confidence in the occurrence of fictitious events typically increases after those events have been imagined. The phenomenon is called imagination inflation and has been demonstrated repeatedly (reviewed in Garry & Polaschek, 2000).

In addition to imagination, peoples beliefs about hypnosis likely play a role in false memory formation. The information that is remembered during hypnosis is typically reported in a context of implicitly and explicitly communicated acceptance of its accuracy. Peoples beliefs have always shaped their hypnotic experiences. When people believed that convulsions were the sine qua non of mesmerism, they convulsed. When they thought it required they went into trance, they went into trance. Catalepsy and spontaneous amnesia have been signs of hypnosis, but only among people who believed that these were expected. Many people believe that hypnosis enhances memory, and this belief leads them to accept more of their confabulation as memory (Whitehouse et al. 1988). The combination of increased fantasy and decreased objectivity, along with the commonly held belief that hypnosis enhances recall, may promote the confusion of fantasy and historical reality and the tenacious events that imagined events actually occurred.

“It is sometimes argued that the actual truth of a memory may be unimportant and what matters is its narrative truth. According to this view, if the recovery of a memory is therapeutic, it does not matter if it is true. The idea that the recovery of a memory is therapeutic is an untested and questionable assumption. But the proposition that a false memory can have negative effects is unquestionable.” P205



 Oxford Hand Book of Hypnosis. Theory, Research & Practice

Michael Nash and Amanda J Barnier

“an enduring theme of hypnosis researchers and practitioners has been whether there exists a special, unique state of hypnosis” p69

“What diversity of states occurs within hypnosis” p69

“Some investigators have argued that hypnosis reflects specific and special cognitive processes and that the focus must be on these processes if we are to understand hypnosis (e.g.Shor, 1959, 1962, 1979; Hilgard, 1973a, 1979). Others have denied the importance of such cognitive processes and have argued that hypnosis can be best understood on the basis of conventional social influence processes (e.g. Spanos and Barber, 1974; Spanos, 1986). On the surface, it would seem difficult to have it both ways. But this isn’t so. The interactionist position considers that hypnosis involves genuine, subjectively compelling alterations in conscious awareness, and that hypnosis is shaped powerfully by the social context in which the hypnotic encounter occurs. From the interactionist perspective, the key issue is to determine and to explain the conditions under which either cognitive or social processes are more influential in determining the experience and behaviour of the hypnotized individual” p69

(in terms of increased availability of affect)

“findings strongly suggest that during the hypnotic state, the subjects experience of emotion is altered in a way that is consistent with the notion of topographic regression. P212

(referencing EAT – Experiential Analysis Technique developed by Sheean and McConkey (1982)

EAT was motivated by an interactionist perspective of hypnosis, where the hypnotic subject is considered to be a dynamic individual who brings certain skills, abilities and expectancies into the hypnotic context. This perspective also acknowledgs the social and contextual demands associated with hypnotic responding (see Sheehan et al. 1978; Sheehan and McConkey 1982; Kihlstrom and McConkey, 1990). In the EAT, the hypnosis session is videotaped and, afterwards the participant and a second, independent experimenter watch the videotape. Whilst watching the videotape the experimenter is invited to comment on their experience of particular suggestions. This strategy recognises that an experimenter cannot question a participant about their responses during hypnosis without disrupting the hypnosis session. The cues afforded by a videotape of the hypnosis session remind participants about their responsesand their associated subjective experiences.

The EAT is a useful technique for exploring participants interpretations of suggestions, any strategies that they employed and their experience of the suggested effects. Additional the EAT provides information on affect, imagery, intensity and levels of control associated with hypnotic responding (Barnier and McConkey 2004). Importantly the EAT attempts to avoid leading questions that may cue participants towards certain responses. Instead, it explicitly allows the participants to make any comments about their responses in an interview format that is intentionally open-ended. The success of the EAT requires good rapport between the participant and interviewer to avoid the participant feeling inhibited or directed when describing their experiences. Subsequently, participant’s comments are independently assessed on a range of constructs driven by the experimental questions of the particular study.

One of the first studies using the EAT illustrates the different subjective experiences of a number of hypnotic participants whose behavioural responding was similar (Laurence and Perry, 1981). During hypnosis, particpants received a suggestion for age regression and in the subsequent EAT they described their reactions to the suggestion. The following comments are from subjects who all passed the age regression suggestion. One participant said: ‘I was there, you know. It was if I was there … but I wasn’t very long. It came and went and didn’t stay … it sort of felt like “what am I doing there?” and the next thing Im back there. I felt like I was looking at myself in a sense … something that you would do in a dream’. Another participant said ‘I had the feeling I was going with my mother …I wasn’t going to school yet so I felt five and a half on the verge of going for enrolment to school. I didn’t have any sense of being an adult’. Another participant described the experience of being asked to write his name while age regressed: ‘I was two people, one standing off looking at the other, and the other that was standing saw saying, you idiot you can write your name, why are you taking so long? Yet the one that is writing is struggling away to form these letters’. The subtle difference in experience illustrated by these comments highlight the subjective differences that may accompany similar behavioural responses. Hence the use of EAT allows researchers to gain a richer understanding of complexities associated with hypnotic responding. P318

In the UK, Tully (2005) a clinical forensic psychologist who is very experienced in this area (recovered memories), has drawn up a list of characteristics of what he terms ‘questionable recovered memories’. One of these is an extensive degree of detail provided for quite remote ‘memories’, sometime for events that allegedly occurred during the period of infantile amnesia (the first two years of life). Another is the ‘mushrooming of material’ during a ‘recovery’ period of days or months, the ‘memories’ becoming ever more detailed and the alleged abuse increasingly more serious and extensive.

In a case on which the police asked me for an opinion, a woman in her late twenties alleged that she had been sexually abused by her father between the age of 2 and 7 years. The complainant had first reported to her doctor that she was experiencing intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares of abuse by her father, and she was referred to the mental health services. She then consulted a private hypnotherapist. At the first session, she underwent ‘age regression’, dramatically reliving the painful memories. The damage was done: the expert witness for the defence declared in her report that memories ‘uncovered’ by hypnotic regression are known to be unreliable. P747


Edited by Michael Heap and Windy Dryden

(Introduction to Hypnosis, The trance or hypnotic experience)

3 Access to the Unconscious Related to characteristic 2 (Altered thinking) is the assumption of greater access to unconscious material, that is memories, fantasies and emotions which have been dissociated from conscious awareness but which will exert an influence on the patient’s feelings. (In the clinical context this is usually a destructive influence). This as well as facilitating the dissociation of experiences, hypnosis may facilitate the reassociation of material which is present in dissociated form. This is not to say that memory is generally enhanced by hypnosis, this is a myth and in fact memories elicited under hypnosis may be at special risk from contamination by fantasy or leading questions (Mingay 1988).



An Integrated Approach To The Treatment Of Emotional Disorders

Assen Alladin

Sensitivity Around Assimilation

The therapist should be sensitive to the assimilation process, as not all the techniques imported can be easily assimilated into one’s theory without contradicting or opposing its central meaning and worldview (Messer, 1989).

For example, the technique of regression commonly used in hypnotherapy contradicts one of the principle tenets of CBT. In hypnotherapy regression is often used to access unconscious experience (Alladin, 2007a pp151-153) and it is readily accepted that one can have an affect without conscious cognition which is contradictory to the cognitive theory which holds that cognition precedes affect. The therapist needs to be very sensitive to the patient, particularly to a patient who is well versed in CBT, when introducing hypnotic regression to access unconscious cognitions, otherwise the patient may be confused and question the credibility of the therapy or the integrity of the therapist. One of the ways of approaching hypnotic regression is to inform the patient. P17

(talking about how the utilisation of hypnosis for PTSD shifted from the outdated techniques)

‘…the focus of the hypnotic procedures shifted from uncovering and catharsis to reducing hyperarousal, restructuring dysfunctional beliefs and perception, and processing traumatic memories’. P95

(with reference to attachment styles (Bowlby 1988); assumptions of the internal working model (Bowlby, 1982) and relational schemas (Baldwyn et al. 1993))

It should be noted that some core relational schemas based on early trauma ‘are often relatively nonresponsive to verbal information, or the expressed views of others later in life, since they are encoded in the first years of life, and thus are preverbal in nature’ (Briere & Scott 2006, p54) ……..regression and reframing work, assisted by hypnotherapy is of assistance here’. P123



 Michael Yapko 2011

Suggestions can be Misapplied

“suggestion is indeed powerful but it is not innately benevolent. Someone can have positive intentions yet catalyse negative outcomes through the misapplication of suggestion. If we are to apply clinical hypnosis and GMM in truly therapeutic ways, we must openly acknowledge our suggestive role in the process and accept-and strive to eliminate the potential for misapplication. The goal is to use suggestion skilfully without as strong commitment to a particular theory or philosophy that may or may not be helpful to the individual’. P37

(talking about the memory therapy scandal)


A view commonly held by sceptics is that psychoanalytical treatment ‘seems to produce a good many more converts than cures’ (Crews, 1993: 55). P50







Elizabeth Loftus & Katherine Ketcham


“[M]any people believe that memory works like a recording device. You just record the information, then you call it up and play it back when you want to answer questions or identify images. But decades of work in psychology has shown that this just isn't true. Our memories are constructive. They're reconstructive. Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.”

“Zealous conviction is a dangerous substitute for an open mind.” An introduction to the History of Psychology p534

Psychological Evaluations for the Courts, Third Edition: A Handbook for ...

“According to the most outspoken and vituperative Skeptics, therapists specializing in recovered memory therapy operate in a neverland of fairy dust and mythic monsters. Woefully out of touch with modern research, engaging in “crude psychiatric analysis,” guilty of oversimplification, overextension, and “incestuous opinion citing,” these misguided, undertrained, and overzealous clinicians are implanting false memories in the minds of suggestible clients, making “therapeutic lifers” out of their patients and ripping families apart. This”
― Elizabeth F. Loftus, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse

“A laboratory analogy to repression can be found in an experiment by A.F. Zeller.
Zeller arranged a situation so that one group of students underwent an unhappy “failure” experience right after they had successfully learned a list of nonsense syllables. When tested later, these subjects showed much poorer recall of the nonsense syllables compared to a control group, who had not experienced failure. When this same “failure” group was later allowed to succeed on the same task that they had earlier failed, their recall showed tremendous improvement. This experiment indicates that when the reason for the repression is removed, when material to be remembered is no longer associated with negative effects, a person no longer experiences retrieval failure.”
― Elizabeth F. Loftus, Human Memory: The Processing of Information

The Myth of Repressed Memory – False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse

In a series of studies conducted by Nicholas Spanos, adult subjects received hypnotic suggestions to regress beyond birth to a previous life. A significant numfer of the participants in this study actually developed past life identities that reflected the hypnotically transmitted expectations. When subjects received a suggestion that they were sexually abused as a child, they reported higher levels of abuse than subjects who were not provided with expectations of child abuse. All it took was a suggestion, and they remembered being abused in a past life. “These findings,” Spanos concluded, are consistent with anecdotal reports indicating that clients in psychotherapy sometimes confabulate complex and extensive pseudomemories that are consistent with the expectations held by their therapists”

From these and many other experiments, psychologists specialising in memory distortion conclude that memories are reconstructed using bits of fact and fiction and that false expectation can be induced by expectation and suggestion. P79

‘Fredrickson cautions that hypnosis is not a magical truth serum and is effective only if the client is prepared to ‘face the truth’. Other clinicians extend the warning, even arguing that hypnosis is contraindicated with incest survivors. The misuse and application of hypnosis carries “the potential of harm” writes Mike Lew in Victims No Longer, arguing that “memories are blocked for a reason”, and questioning “the benefit of dragging out memories before you are ready to deal with them”. Lew is also sceptical about the quick fix mentality of memory recovery work:

I don’t think it makes sense to set recovery of specific abuse memories as the primary goal. Doing this gives the misleading impression that if you recover the memories everything will be all right. If you adopt this mistaken notion, you will be deeply disappointed when you discover that there is still much work to be done after the memories are in place.

ADDITIONAL WARNINGS: In a recent paper, psychologists Lynn and Nash point out that

Features of the hypnotic context, taken individually and in combination may conspire to elevate the risk of pseudomemory creation. This observation is reinforced by the 1985 report by the American Medical Association* and by subsequent research that underscores the fact that hypnosis can increase the confidence of recalled events with little or no change in the level of accuracy.

 Repeated questioning “tends to freeze or harden memories, regardless of the historical accuracy of the memories,” Nash and Lynn warn, and the problem is intensified if the therapist believes in the historical accuracy of the memories: “When clinicians communicate that clients memories are accurate, clients may place an unwarranted degree of trust in their memories.” When clinicians communicate that clients memories are accurate, client may place an unwarranted degree of trust in their memories.”

In a paper presented in 1992 at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Nash discussed cases in which hypnotized subjects were age-progressed to senenty or eighty years old and recalled events they had yet to experience.

P164-165 - Journal of the American Medical Association apr 4, 1985, Vol 253, pages1918-1923



Confabulation and Source Confusion

Memories in very young children:

‘We don’t know what is important and we don’t have the structure and all the language – to make sense of the world, never mind the cognitive resources necessary to process it …. they don’t have any framework for understanding what they should be trying to remember…’ p12

‘Age regression is a psychoanalytical concept that originates in notions posited by Sigmund Freud. It has also been discredited by numerous empirical studies – it just doesn’t work reliably as a memory aid (research 22)’ – p19

Spanos and his collaborators began looking to demonstrate alongside studies into the utilisation of age regression hypnosis, (research ref 20-21) the possibility of generating early memories of things that are not just unlikely but impossible. After his unfortunate death, Cheryl and Melissa Burgess continued their research and published the results in 1999.

They introduced participants to the notion they had skills that they probably had developed immediately after birth and attributed these skills to being born in hospitals which hung  mobiles by their cribs. They were then regressed and despite utilising discredited memory retrieval techniques, the research demonstrated that the participants seemed to recall a higher number of details about the time they had ‘supposedly’ been regressed to. Roughly half (51%) managed to remember the key fictional detail – in this case of a coloured mobile, they had been told about. Those who didn’t remember that actually testified to remembering other details and virtually all claimed they were real memories and not fantasies. Think about what the researchers did – they created a scenario and utilised age regression to get participants to confabulate memories from nothing and from a period where it is proven memories cant be formed.

There are other studies too. Kathryn Braun and colleagues from HBS (research 23) experimented on whether memories could be created using advertising. They conducted a couple of studies but the significant study, the second study got participants to read adverts that planted the suggestion that on a trip to Disney World they had shaken hands with Bugs Bunny, with the result being that it increased confidence in the participants that this had actually happened. The second phase of their research is highly significant because Bugs isn’t a Disney character, yet this brief exposure to a contrived advert was able to manipulate the subjects childhood memories way beyond any likelihood of them being accurate.

As Dr Shaw concludes ‘This research was important in demonstrating that we can manipulate and confabulate small moments in our lives that are linked to real events’ p21

If you are not happy using this one particular piece of research to question the validity of memory then you may be happy or unhappy to know that the experiment was replicated, with even more detailed, complex and less trivial recollections such as the research done by Deryn Strange in NZ (research 24).









Salvador Dali ‘The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels; it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant’


 The Secret Life OF The Brain – Lisa Feldman Barrett

Eyewitness reports are perhaps the least reliable evidence one can have. Memories are not like a photograph-they are simulations, created by the same core networks that construct experiences and perceptions of emotions. A memory is presented in your brain in bits and pieces as patterns of firing neurons, and ‘recall’ is a cascade of predictions that reconstruct the event. Your memories are therefore highly vulnerable to reshaping by your current circumstances, like having your body all worked up in the witness stand or if youre being badgered by a persistent defense attorney. P239


Jaak Panksepp – Lucy Biven

Emotional memories remain forever malleable, through a phenomenon called reconsolidation (Nader & Hardt 2009).

If we can soften the sting of emotionally painful memories by retrieving them in different affective contexts-rotating them in the minds eye in different ways, so to speak-then it becomes possible to therapeutically capitalise on the simple fact that positive affects can counteract negative affects.


Jospeh Ledoux

Memories are Imperfect Reconstructions of Experiences: Even though a memory of an emotional experience is strong and vivid, it is not necessarily accurate. Explicit memories, regardless of their emotion implications, are not carbon copies of the experiences that created them. They are reconstructions at the time of recall, and the state of the brain at the time of recall can influence the way in which the withdrawn memory is remembered. As Sir Frederic Bartlett demonstrated long ago, explicit memories involve simplifications, additions, elaborations, and rationalisations of learning experiences, as well as omissions od elements of the initial learning Tomkins 1962). The memory in short occurs in the context of what Bartlett called a cognitive schema, which includes the expectations and biases of the person doing the remembering (Izzard 1971,1992).

<should discuss too long to quote the effects of stress on the hippocampus and if prolongued can cause shrivelling up of dendrites (parts of neurons that get incoming information) in the hippocampus to the point the memory could effectively get erased in part or in full.>

‘The only thing that is clear about memory recovery in real life is that there is no way for outsiders to definitely determine whether a particular memory is real or fabricated in the absence of solid corroborating evidence (fabrication does not imply that the person is lying, only that the memory is false). P245

‘introspective knowledge of thought processes provides a highly inaccurate window into the mind, even in mundane (nontraumatic) situations. Things are likely to be even worse when confusion abounds, as it must during and following trauma. The waters of memory recovery are treacherous and should be walked through very carefully’. P245


Self Deception & the Riddle of Confabulation

William Hirstein

Children sometimes confabulate when asked to recall events. Ackil and Zaragoza (1998) showed first graders a segment of a film depicting a boy and his experiences at summer camp. Afterwards the children were asked questions about it, including questions about events that did not happen in the film. One such question was, ‘What did the boy say Sullivan had stolen?’ when in fact no thefts had taken place in the film. The children were p0ressed to give some sort of answer and the experimenters often suggested an answer. When the children were interviewed a week later, the false events as well as the suggested events had been incorporated into their recollections of the movie. P13

Criteria for Confabulation


  1. Does the Patient intend to Deceive? The orthodox position is that the patient has no intent to deceive. Confabulation is not lying.
  2. Does the Patient have Some Motive Behind His or Her Response? The most obvious motive would be a desire to cover up ones deficit. Another motive sometimes cited is the desired to avoid something known as the ‘catastrophic reaction’ whereby a patient comes to the realisation that they have lost their memory, in a spot etc. A third motive is to avoid saying I don’t know, especially when pushed or steered towards expectancy.
  3. Must a Defective Memory Be Involved? traditionally it is defined that it must be accompanied by a memory defecit, though there are exceptions such as certain conditions and damage to regions of the brain.
  4. Must the Confabulation Be in Response to a Question or Request? There are two types of confabulation; spontaneous and provoked and as such the former can merely be a result of a delusion of sorts.
  5. Does the Confabulation Fill a Gap? With regards to this criterion, yes gaps in the cognitive system – this sits with the notion that we have to have complete representations of the world. As before there are exceptions due to specific syndromes etc.
  6. Are Confabulations Necessarily in Linguistic Form? Probably a better more concise response would be that they need to be coherent and internally consistent.
  7. Are Confabulations the Result of Delusions? The distinction is probably made that the former is a belief and the latter a claim – delusions possibly giving rise to confabulations.

Three concepts of Confabulation:

  1. Mnemonic Concept- based on the concept of gap filling
  2. Linguistic Confabulation – related to the notion of story telling
  3. Epistemic Confabulation – associated to the making of claims


‘children exhibit some of the same patterns of memory problems that patients with frontal damage show (Lindsay et al. 1991). This may be because the frontal lobes are among the last cortical areas to mature. A large part of their development occurs between five and ten years (Case 1992), and they do not fully mature until the teenage years (Smith et al. 1992). In an experiment Pre-school children were presented with a deck of cards, each of which described an event. Some of the events had actually happened to the children and other had not. When they were repeatedly asked whether the false event had happened to them, fifty-eight percent of the children eventually agreed they had, and many of them embellished the veent with confabulated details. P67

Subjects of hypnosis wil also confabulate about memories. Dywan (1995) identified two independent hypotheses for why hypnotized people confabulate: They lower the criteria they use in evaluating memory reports, or they experience an illusion of familiarity. Dywan preferred the second approach because ‘hypnosis alters the experience of retrieval’ so that what is retrieved is more likely to have qualities such as vividness and perceptual fluency (1995,194). P68










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