February 13, 2009
Child sex abuse recalled differently
Scottish researchers suggest there are differences between those who gradually recover memories of abuse in therapy and those who remember more spontaneously.
Psychologist Elke Geraerts of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and colleagues studied 120 women who were classified into four groups -- women who spontaneously recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse on their own, women who gradually recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse during suggestive therapy sessions, women who had never forgotten having been sexually abused and women who had never been sexually abused.
All participated in a false-memory test. They studied a list of related words -- such as bed, rest, awake and tired -- and a few minutes later, they were shown a set of words and had to indicate which words were on the original list. The results showed that the women who recovered their memories of childhood sexual abuse during suggestive therapy were the most prone to false memories.
The women then participated in another memory test, which measured the participants' propensity to forget what they had just remembered.
The results revealed that the group who spontaneously recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse was the most likely to forget that they had successfully remembered certain words earlier.
The authors note that the findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, argue against the generalization that all recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse are based on false recollections and
that such effects appear to be associated with suggestive therapy, not recovery of childhood sexual abuse in general.