Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SECRETS OF MEMORY: Part IV The myth of recovered memory

Story of an innocent victim of “recovered memory” 
Eileen Franklin’s “recovered memory” sent her innocent father to prison wherein he languished for five long years before getting acquittal.
Eileen Franklin, a twenty-nine-year-old woman was cuddling her two-year-old son in her arms. Her daughter and two playmates sat on the carpeted floor at her feet, and as Eileen looked into her daughter's eyes a vivid scene that flashed into her mind. Eileen saw her best friend, eight-year-old Susan Nason, sitting on a rock in a wooded setting. Behind her there was a man holding a heavy rock above his head. Susan lifted her hands to protect herself as the man moved toward her. The rock crushed Susan's skull, and Eileen covered her ears against the sound of bones shattering.
In that burning flash of memory, Eileen believed she had made contact with the forgotten past. A memory she had buried for two decades, almost two thirds of her life, had returned without warning or premonition to reveal the shocking truth: She had witnessed her best friend's murder. But the flashback disclosed another shocking fact: The man who murdered Susan Nason was George Franklin, her own father!
For months, Eileen tried to avoid the memory, but it kept returning and gaining detail and precision. In November 1989, ten months after her memory first returned, Eileen decided to tell her husband, who insisted that they call the police.
On November 25, 1989, Eileen Franklin sat down in her living room with detectives Morse and Cassandro to relate the astonishing details of a playful outing that ended in rape and murder. After she finished telling her story, the detectives questioned her closely, and she answered with more astonishing details. The detectives left Eileen Franklin's house convinced that she was telling the truth. On November 28, 1989, George Franklin was placed under arrest for the murder of Susan Nason. The only evidence against him was his daughter's memory.
A psychiatrist testified that Eileen had recovered a repressed memory of the murder. The trauma of the murder had caused Eileen to repress the memory throughout her childhood, according to the testimony in the trial.
Elizabeth F. Loftus, a psychologist and expert on human memory was the witness for defense. She pointed out that there were many additions and subtractions in Eileen's account of the murder which confirmed the falsification of memory. Over time, memory changes, and the more time that passes, the more changes and distortions one can expect. As new events intervene, the mind incorporates the additional facts and details, and the original memory gradually changes.

Role of hypnotherapist
What actually triggered the flashbacks? In August 1989, Eileen confided in her brother that she was in therapy and had been hypnotized. The next day, she told her brother that while she was under hypnosis she had visualized her father killing Susan Nason. In September 1989, Eileen told her mother about the memory that it had come back to her during a hypnotherapy session.
The prosecutors argued that this elaborate "memory" was an accurate version of the past, and they invoked the mechanism of “repression” to explain why Eileen forgot about her part in the murder and then twenty years later recalled exactly what happened. Changes and inconsistencies in Eileen's story should not be construed as evidence that the memory itself was flawed, they reasoned, but taken as simple proof that this was an old but reliable memory which needed a few corrections.
On November 30, 1990, the jury reached a verdict: George Franklin was guilty of the crime of first-degree murder!
In her book, Sins of the Father, Eileen describes her childhood as extremely violent. "My father's beatings and the mean way in which he spoke to us were terrifying," Eileen wrote. She remembered that her younger brother George, Jr., told her that he feared their father so much; he kept a baseball bat under his bed for protection. Her mother endured both physical and emotional abuse, and her sister Janice claimed that she was repeatedly sexually abused by their father. http://www.amazon.com/Sins-Father-Eileen-Franklin/dp/0449219992 
As Eileen discussed her emerging memories with her therapist, he explained that the human mind is, indeed, capable of burying a painful or traumatic event in the unconscious. When the time is right, the memory will surface; as the memory emerges into consciousness, it will gradually lose its power to hurt. The ability to bring back to consciousness long-buried memories, Eileen learned in therapy, is a crucial step in healing and recovery.
Eileen “recovered” a memory of an event that occurred when she was eight or nine years old. She was in a strange house with her father and another man. "I was on something like a table. My father was holding down my left shoulder with one hand, his other hand over my mouth. I saw the face of a black man. I heard laughing. I felt a horrible, searing pain in my lower body, I tried to scream but couldn't because of my father's hand."
For six months, Eileen believed she had been raped by an unknown black man. Only when her mother suggested to her that the rapist might have been a family friend did Eileen's mind begin to reconstruct the scene, changing the assailant from a black man she did not know to a white man she knew very well.
Her therapist's oft-repeated words echoed in her mind: Only when she accepted her emotions as real and valid would she be free, finally, to express herself, to let go of her childhood hurts, to become her true self.
Therapists working with individuals who experience recovered memories typically have attributed these individuals’ forgetting to repression. Repression generally refers to an inhibitory process of excluding events from retrieval. According to classical Freudian theory, repression is a defense mechanism that protects the ego from anxiety by preventing unpleasant memories from entering consciousness. One can readily see why a person would be motivated to repress traumatic experiences and exclude them from consciousness t avoid the anxiety that traumatic memories provoke.

Recovered memories are false memories
Another possibility suggested by memory researchers—and by Freud himself—is that supposedly lost and then recovered memories of sexual and other abuse are false memories.  
The theory of unconsciously repressing the memory of traumatic experiences is controversial. There is little scientific evidence to support either the notion that traumatic experiences are typically unconsciously repressed or that unconscious memories of traumatic events are significant causal factors in physical or mental illness. Most people do not forget traumatic experiences unless they are rendered unconscious at the time of the experience. No one has identified a single case where a specific traumatic experience in childhood was repressed and the repressed memory of the event, rather than the event itself, caused a specific psychiatric or physical disorder in adulthood.  http://www.fmsfonline.org/reliable.html 
George Franklin acquitted
He served five years behind the bars before his conviction was reviewed by an appeals court and overturned on the grounds that Eileen’s recollections were probably false memories.

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