A repressed memory, according to some theories of psychology, is a memory (often traumatic) of an event or environment which is stored by the unconscious mind but outside the awareness of the conscious mind. Some theorize that these memories may be recovered (that is, integrated into consciousness) years or decades after the event.
There currently exists controversy among psychologists as to whether repressed memories actually exist, and even more controversy over whether recovering repressed memories is a legitimate phenomenon. This is particularly important as many controversial criminal cases have been based on witness testimony of recovered repressed memories, often of alleged childhood sexual abuse.
One popular theory on how repression works is that traumatic memories are stored scattered about in the amygdala and hippocampus but not integrated into the neocortex. Also, it could be possible the right brain stores the memory but does not communicate it to the verbal left brain. But evidence suggesting repression can sometimes be a continual active effort by the unconscious which can be dropped at a moments notice should the unconscious decide to and then possibly rerepressed (!) would seem to suggest a more complicated model. For example, one possibility might be the anterior cingular actively inhibits the memory from reaching consciousness.
On the other hand, skeptics of theories of repressed memory suggest that the supposedly "recovered" memories are actually false memories, often based on subtle suggestions by the questioner. Recent research demonstrating the relative ease of deliberately implanting false memories has been cited as evidence for this hypothesis. Hundreds of people who went through therapy and were convinced that they had been abused by their family members have recanted and no longer believe they were abused. More information can be found at the website for the False Memory Syndrome.
A common explanation among proponents of the existence of repression for the widespread skepticism and denial is that the skeptics are denying their own traumatic experiences themselves and/or they are perpetrators themselves.
False memories, confabulations and screen memories can be implanted/confabulated, as for example, in past life regression and alien abductions.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists summarized their position as:
Psychiatrists are advised to avoid engaging in any "memory recovery techniques" which are based upon the expectation of past sexual abuse of which the patient has no memory. Such...techniques may include drug-mediated interviews ["truth serum"], hypnosis, regression therapies, guided imagery, "body memories," literal dream interpretation, and journaling. There is no evidence that the use of consciousness-altering techniques, such as drug-mediated interviews or hypnosis, can reveal or accurately elaborate factual information about any past experiences, including sexual abuse.
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