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Silly News Magazines: Confusing Correlation with Causation

I was perusing a website today and I stumbled across a headline that bothered me:

Does Being Left-Handed Make You Angry?

In this Time Magazine blog on health-related news, the author discusses findings from a correlational study of tympanic membrane temperature and dominant handedness.

Without going into the integrity of study, my main beef is the way the title is presented by Time and the aggregating website. It implies a general causation between being left-handed and more prone to anger. The word “make” is the hook. I strongly doubt the researchers used the words the blog post did.

I suggest a better title: Does being Left-Handed Relate to Issues with Anger? Of course, I’m no journalist, and that title may not grab readers.

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TAM 8 Summary – Saturday (Part 1)

Saturday proved to be another rousing conference of diverse minds and varied expertise, beginning with further perspectives on the state and position of skepticism movement, drifting into talks of aliens and paranormal investigations, and concluding with an interview of one of the world’s most famous atheists. There was even some humor thrown in amongst the heady talks, so I felt that Saturday was a real treat!

After another live podcast of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe (discussing nukes in space, PepsiGate, and Deborah King’s “energy vampires”), Massimo Pigliucci began Saturday’s talks. His presentation, entitled So, You Think You’re a Skeptic, Don’t You? (PDF link), discussed the problem of hubris – most skeptics do not have technical scientific expertise and to reject a scientific notion without proper expertise is a form of anti-intellectualism. Pigliucci cited pillars of the skepticism community as erring in this way, including Penn and Teller, Bill Mauer, James Randi, and Michael Shermer. He sees the issue is ideology, explaining that denialism of scientific claims (such as climate change) due to political ideology is similar to denialism of scientific claims (such as evolution) because of religious ideology. In conclusion, Pigliucci voiced that fallibility should not be determined by the skeptic community, but rather by scientists and philosophers who have specialized expertise. Skeptics should instead debunk the bunk, educate the public about critical thinking, and support the best science available. I agree with Pigliucci’s distinctions, as I feel we should never go beyond the areas of our expertise and understanding in scientific matters.

Next on the agenda was the Grassroots Panel, moderated by Michael Feldman and consisting of Richard Saunders, Chip Denman, Jamy Ian Swiss, Jen Newport, and Sid Rodriguez. The panelists offered their takes on forming grassroots skeptic organizations and the pros and cons of smaller outfits compared to national organizations. Everyone was in agreement that there are certain perks to being local, including the social aspect, ability to fuel larger groups, being less intimidating than national organizations, and being more effective in influencing local policy. Swiss warned that local skeptical activism can be powerful, but also comes with a lot of responsibility and can lead to legal issues. Denman urged those who could to take courses in speaking to the media, saying “it will save you”. Newport criticized virtual grassroots activism in that some pieces are more opinion than truth and that misinformation can spread quickly. Saunders agreed, but said that when online activism is used for good it can be very productive. Everyone seemed to agree that virtual activism would not replace physical groups, with Swiss emphasizing the importance of social interaction and Newport interjecting that she feels “it is activist to be there for people to find you”. The panel was very informative and interesting, nicely balancing the good and bad that can come with setting up a local skepticism group.

Following the panel, cognitive psychologist Bruce Hood took his place on the stage to discuss Why People Believe the Weirdest Shit, which focused on developmental factors of supernatural beliefs. Hood first discussed that “personal experience” with the paranormal can be explained through expectations stemming from belief, in that the brain’s neural firing fills in inferred information (such as “seeing a ghost”) for what is believed and “should” be. He then discussed spontaneous supernatural beliefs that can be traced through childhood cognitive development, such as mind-body dualism, preference for Creationism over Darwinism, wishful thinking, and essentialism. Essentialism, the belief in an underlying reality or true nature shared by members of a category that one cannot observe directly but gives an object its identity, is at the heart of sentimentality toward objects, belief in religious relics, and experiencing psychic connections among people. Hood concluded that it is not enough just to be skeptical, but that we need to know why people believe in the paranormal. He also posited that believing may be more natural than abnormal, since it seems to be how the brain works. The concept of essentialism was very interesting to me in that there are many skeptics (myself included) that do have secular supernatural beliefs such as sentimentality to certain objects.

Up next, Steve Novella moderated the Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and Other Dubious Health Care Systems panel in which Simon Singh, David Gorski, Ginger Campbell, Harriet Hall, and Rachael Dunlop participated. Gorski began by affirming that the distinction between science-based medicine and other healing techniques is that scientific-based medicine will abandon approaches that are shown to be ineffective and that this is a very important position. Novella questioned the legitimacy of alt-med regulation and licensure, to which Hall replied that you can license anything and that is an issue because with licensure comes credibility. Gorski voiced concern about who sets the standards, stating that if it is not scientists then it must be those within the discipline, to which Singh added that criticism within alternative medicine is nonexistent and that this is not the case in science-based medicine. Campbell suggested that homeopathic medicine does not belong in Walmart, to which the entire panel urged the skeptic community to push for its removal by TAM 9. Regarding how much difference can be made by educating the public about unfounded alt-med cures, Campbell said a lot could be gained and that it must be discussed (without superiority) with your friends and neighbors. Finally, Novella asked about expanding resources into researching alternative medicine claims, to which all panelists mostly agreed that completely unsubstantiated claims (like homeopathy) should receive no funding. Gorski and Dunlop supported looking into herbal medicine a bit, as did Singh who added that “wacky” claims need a bit of research as well, since some have indeed turned out to be legitimate. This panel was very informative and I really enjoyed the passion expressed by each panelist. I feel that a push to remove homeopathic medicine from Walmart would be a worthwhile endeavor and hope some movement regarding this does take place; I would certainly be an active participant.

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TAM 8 Summary – Friday (Part 2)

After Simon Singh, Joe Nickell took to the stage to discuss his experiences of going undercover to investigate paranormal claims. Nickell, called by Paul Kurtz “the modern Sherlock Holmes”, creates false personas and then takes part in alleged supernatural rituals. He discussed debunking mediums at Camp Chesterfield, infiltrating the religious camp of Johnny God, being “cured” of made up illnesses by Benny Hinn, and counter-investigating the psychic investigation work of Phil Jordan. In each and every instance, he found it quite telling that no one claiming paranormal abilities could see through his charade. Nickell’s accounts were extremely entertaining and I found it interesting that he claims to have never felt endangered throughout his years of paranormal investigation work.

Adam Savage spoke next, reading a speech that he gave upon receiving the Harvard Humanism Award. An atheist, Savage talked about how he feels God is not a prerequisite for knowing how to live the good life. He remarked that good without God is a fact and that “Prayer doesn’t work because someone out there is listening, but because someone inside is – me.” Savage also remarked that while we would like good and evil to be clear cut, it is not; such a desire is banal. After his speech, a live auction was held to support the JREF, with a piece of the duct tape bridge donated by Savage and co-Mythbuster Jamie Hyneman raising $650. I found Savage’s speech passionate and topical, and watching him run around the ballroom with his auction item held high was an added treat!

Astronomer Pamela Gay was up next, discussing Living Astronomy Out Loud, or how everyone can help contribute to the field of astronomy. Opening with data indicating that only 1 in 3750 people in the United States were scientists in 2007 (fewer than the number of clergy), Gay spoke out on the need to increase scientist numbers. She presented a number of astronomy-oriented websites that anyone can use to categorize universal phenomena, including Galaxy Zoo, Moon Zoo, and Solar Stormwatch. Gay explained that astronomers need this Web 2.0 assistance to expand their research, but also need people to support science in education. Gay voiced concern about the “offensively inadequate” state of science education and explained that some Illinois public high schools cannot offer the minimum number of classes to meet eligibility for the University of Illinois. She concluded by stating “your actions are needed to change this nation” and encouraging everyone in the audience to contribute by supporting science interest and education. Gay’s figures and concerns were troubling to me as a critical thinking in education advocate and something must definitely be done to put the sciences far down on the list of budget cut casualties.

Little did we know that the tone and focus of TAM was going to drastically change upon the next guest taking the podium. Phil Plait confronted a growing issue within the skeptic community – patronizing, close-minded skeptics. “Vitriol and venom are on the rise” in skepticism, Plait argued, polling the audience about how many people have ever changed their mind because they were yelled at about their beliefs (only a couple hands were raised of over a thousand audience members). He explained how attempts to debunk another’s beliefs only serve to reinforce the belief in question, emphasizing the need to be open and considerate in discussions of belief. Plait posited that the goal of the skepticism movement is to obtain a more rational, real world and that in this endeavor communication is key. While insults may feel good to throw at the opposing side, they do nothing to get the argument across. In closing, Plait said that we don’t need warriors in this pursuit, but diplomats. I could not agree more with Plait’s position and will be discussing this in greater detail in my review of TAM (to be posted after the event summaries).

After this rousing and inspirational talk by Plait, social psychologist Carol Tavris gave a talk on Science, Skepticism, and Self-Deception that was much in line with Plait’s message. Tavris discussed what she labels the Semmelweis Problem, which is the refusal to change beliefs and actions despite substantial evidence that existing beliefs and actions are flawed compared to a more beneficial and accurate approach. Three hardwired biases – the bias of being unbiased, the bias that we are smarter/better/kinder/more competent than others, and the confirmation bias – fuel the perpetuation of irrational beliefs. This is true of skeptics as well as believers, especially because skeptics tend to have a self-concept that they are not easily fooled and this can prevent consideration of alternative concepts. Tavris explained that the moment a stance is decided on regarding an issue, justification through the three hardwired biases immediately sets in and considering an alternate perspective becomes perpetually more difficult as biased evidence is accumulated. This is why assaulting another’s beliefs does not work and instead strengthens their beliefs. Tavris concluded by emphasizing that while cognitive dissonance may be hardwired, how we think about decision making is learned and this can overcome close-mindedness and lead to more effective communication. As a supporter of empathetic, open skepticism, what Tavris had to say was greatly appreciated and all the more poignant after Plait’s passionate speech.

Finally, a panel moderated by D.J. Grothe and featuring Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz, Ken Frazier, and James Randi focused on The Origins of the Modern Skeptic Movement. Randi explained that the movement began humbly as SIR (Sanity In Research) and only really took off when their small group started making academic connections. CSICOP (now CSI) was created in the 1970s to combat the irrationalism of paranormal beliefs, explained Kurtz, and when asked if there are less paranormal believers now, Hyman noted that measuring success is difficult and Frazier explained that the instantaneous state of media has altered the situation. Grothe asked if the fact that over 1300 TAM attendees was evidence of success, to which Randi said yes but it is “a drop in the bucket”. Frazier doubted that irrational beliefs could ever be eradicated, but that it could be curbed much like law enforcement curbs crime. Kurtz interjected that skepticism is a method that must be conveyed as essential and that its emphasis in schooling is paramount. In response to Grothe asking if there has been a shift in the community’s approach, Frazier stated that he does not think there has been a significant change, citing that the focus is still on testable claims. Similarly, Randi reminded everyone that the JREF is not atheist, but will pursue any religious claims that are observable and testable. The panel concluded with a video of the late Martin Gardner and Randi giving a speech in remembrance to his close friend and colleague.

In closing, James Randi presented an award to Paul Kurtz for his decades of work promoting skepticism. This was a very moving and important recognition for Kurtz, who recently resigned from CFI, CSI, and the Council for Secular Humanism to establish the Institute for Science and Human Values. In receiving the award, Kurtz stated that contributions such as his must be ongoing and the skepticism community is obligated to continue the promotion of critical thinking. I am definitely ready and eager to take up this cause and hope that everyone in the audience agrees with Kurtz in this regard.

After Simon Singh, Joe Nickell took to the stage to discuss his experiences of going undercover to investigate paranormal claims. Nickell, called by Paul Kurtz “the modern Sherlock Holmes”, creates false personas and then takes part in alleged supernatural rituals. He discussed debunking mediums at Camp Chesterfield, infiltrating the religious camp of Johnny God, being “cured” of made up illnesses by Benny Hinn, and counter-investigating the psychic investigation work of Phil Jordan. In each and every instance, he found it quite telling that no one claiming paranormal abilities could see through his charade. Nickell’s accounts were extremely entertaining and I found it interesting that he claims to have never felt endangered throughout his years of paranormal investigation work.

Adam Savage spoke next, reading a speech that he gave upon receiving the Harvard Humanism Award. An atheist, Savage talked about how he feels God is not a prerequisite for knowing how to live the good life. He remarked that good without God is a fact and that “Prayer doesn’t work because someone out there is listening, but because someone inside is – me.” Savage also remarked that while we would like good and evil to be clear cut, it is not; such a desire is banal. After his speech, a live auction was held to support the JREF, with a piece of the duct tape bridge donated by Savage and co-Mythbuster Jamie Hyneman raising $650. I found Savage’s speech passionate and topical, and watching him run around the ballroom with his auction item held high was an added treat!

Astronomer Pamela Gay was up next, discussing Living Astronomy Out Loud, or how everyone can help contribute to the field of astronomy. Opening with data indicating that only 1 in 3750 people in the United States were scientists in 2007 (fewer than the number of clergy), Gay spoke out on the need to increase scientist numbers. She presented a number of astronomy-oriented websites that anyone can use to categorize universal phenomena, including Galaxy Zoo, Moon Zoo, and Solar Stormwatch. Gay explained that astronomers need this Web 2.0 assistance to expand their research, but also need people to support science in education. Gay voiced concern about the “offensively inadequate” state of science education and explained that some Illinois public high schools cannot offer the minimum number of classes to meet eligibility for the University of Illinois. She concluded by stating “your actions are needed to change this nation” and encouraging everyone in the audience to contribute by supporting science interest and education. Gay’s figures and concerns were troubling to me as a critical thinking in education advocate and something must definitely be done to put the sciences far down on the list of budget cut casualties.

Little did we know that the tone and focus of TAM was going to drastically change upon the next guest taking the podium. Phil Plait confronted a growing issue within the skeptic community – patronizing, close-minded skeptics. “Vitriol and venom are on the rise” in skepticism, Plait argued, polling the audience about how many people have ever changed their mind because they were yelled at about their beliefs (only a couple hands were raised of over a thousand audience members). He explained how attempts to debunk another’s beliefs only serve to reinforce the belief in question, emphasizing the need to be open and considerate in discussions of belief. Plait posited that the goal of the skepticism movement is to obtain a more rational, real world and that in this endeavor communication is key. While insults may feel good to throw at the opposing side, they do nothing to get the argument across. In closing, Plait said that we don’t need warriors in this pursuit, but diplomats. I could not agree more with Plait’s position and will be discussing this in greater detail in my review of TAM (to be posted after the event summaries).

After this rousing and inspirational talk by Plait, social psychologist Carol Tavris gave a talk on Science, Skepticism, and Self-Deception that was much in line with Plait’s message. Tavris discussed what she labels the Semmelweis Problem, which is the refusal to change beliefs and actions despite substantial evidence that existing beliefs and actions are flawed compared to a more beneficial and accurate approach. Three hardwired biases – the bias of being unbiased, the bias that we are smarter/better/kinder/more competent than others, and the confirmation bias – fuel the perpetuation of irrational beliefs. This is true of skeptics as well as believers, especially because skeptics tend to have a self-concept that they are not easily fooled and this can prevent consideration of alternative concepts. Tavris explained that the moment a stance is decided on regarding an issue, justification through the three hardwired biases immediately sets in and considering an alternate perspective becomes perpetually more difficult as biased evidence is accumulated. This is why assaulting another’s beliefs does not work and instead strengthens their beliefs. Tavris concluded by emphasizing that while cognitive dissonance may be hardwired, how we think about decision making is learned and this can overcome close-mindedness and lead to more effective communication. As a supporter of empathetic, open skepticism, what Tavris had to say was greatly appreciated and all the more poignant after Plait’s passionate speech.

Finally, a panel moderated by D.J. Grothe and featuring Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz, Ken Frazier, and James Randi focused on The Origins of the Modern Skeptic Movement. Randi explained that the movement began humbly as SIR (Sanity In Research) and only really took off when their small group started making academic connections. CSICOP (now CSI) was created in the 1970s to combat the irrationalism of paranormal beliefs, explained Kurtz, and when asked if there are less paranormal believers now, Hyman noted that measuring success is difficult and Frazier explained that the instantaneous state of media has altered the situation. Grothe asked if the fact that over 1300 TAM attendees was evidence of success, to which Randi said yes but it is “a drop in the bucket”. Frazier doubted that irrational beliefs could ever be eradicated, but that it could be curbed much like law enforcement curbs crime. Kurtz interjected that skepticism is a method that must be conveyed as essential and that its emphasis in schooling is paramount. In response to Grothe asking if there has been a shift in the community’s approach, Frazier stated that he does not think there has been a significant change, citing that the focus is still on testable claims. Similarly, Randi reminded everyone that the JREF is not atheist, but will pursue any religious claims that are observable and testable. The panel concluded with a video of the late Martin Gardner and Randi giving a speech in remembrance to his close friend and colleague.

In closing, James Randi presented an award to Paul Kurtz for his decades of work promoting skepticism. This was a very moving and important recognition for Kurtz, who recently resigned from CFI, CSI, and the Council for Secular Humanism to establish the Institute for Science and Human Values. In receiving the award, Kurtz stated that contributions such as his must be ongoing and the skepticism community is obligated to continue the promotion of critical thinking. I am definitely ready and eager to take up this cause and hope that everyone in the audience agrees with Kurtz in this regard.

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TAM 8 Summary – Thursday

[Photos added July 10th, 2010]

Note: I have underestimated the expansiveness of TAM (and overestimated the availability of power sources and internet access) and this is causing me to retract my original schedule of posting the evening following each day. I will probably be at least a day behind with these daily summaries given the awesome chaos that is The Amaz!ng Meeting. However, I promise to get them posted as soon as possible.  Thank you for your understanding.

Thursday programming of The Amaz!ng Meeting primarily consists of optional workshops up to the event’s opening reception in the evening. This year’s offerings did not interest me enough to pay additional fees for them, but while there were not a lot of events to participate in there were still a number of notable experiences.

The first TAM-related event was a workshop entitled Skepticism in the Classroom consisting of presentations by Daniel Loxton, Barbara Drescher, Matt Lowry, and moderator Michael Blanford (JREF’s Director of Education). Daniel Loxton discussed how evolution through natural selection can be used as a tool for teaching students how to think critically. He suggested utilizing provocative evolutionary puzzles, such as “Why are trees so tall?”, “What color is best for an animal?”, and “How did animals get wings?” to facilitate critical thinking discussions and teach the fundamentals of scientific investigation.

Next, Matt Lowry discussed methods he uses in his high school classes to foster interest in the sciences. Promoting the approach of combining wonder and skepticism, Lowry offered a number of scientific demonstrations educators could include in their curriculum – such as launching water balloons and firing rockets as physics exercises, laying down on a bed of nails and letting a student hammer a concrete brick on top of him to teach about surface area and force distribution, and creating a “haunted” physics lab for Halloween.

Barbara Drescher discussed the first steps of teaching critical thinking, which includes education on flaws in human cognition and perception and that human reasoning is fallible. Included in the presentation were a number of images and sound clips showcasing pareidolia, along with exercises that demonstrate various flaws in cognition. Drescher’s conclusion was that intelligence is not enough to be a critical thinker, but that an openness to alternative perspectives and approaches is required.

Finally, Barbara Drescher presented for Kylie Sturgess on critical thinking in English class.  A writing project that she gave her 10th grade English class that consisted of analyzing Shakespeare’s Macbeth for pseudoscientific claims, specifically the portrayal of the supernatural in the play, was presented. Students were provided with various worksheets to assist in organizing data and a guide of tips to use in investigating claims.  The project was an interesting example of how critical thinking can be integrated into fields outside of science.

After a nice reception, I attended the Skepticality Speaking Beyond BS podcast and live video streaming. Participants included Swoopy, Desiree Schell, Heidi Anderson, Barbara Drescher, and Aubrey de Grey, plus Blake Smith and Daniel Loxton. The passionate, free-form discussion covered topics such as condescending skeptics, feminist and atheist segmentation in the skeptic community, accomodationists and Loxton’s Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, and Paul Kurtz’s new humanism. The entire event was captured on Ustream and the podcast will eventually be posted on SheThought. It will be a good one!

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Freud and Penfield were wrong about memory and it leads to woo

          
ResearchBlogging.orgDon’t get me wrong, Sigmund Freud and Wilder Penfield were far more intelligent and successful than I, but in hindsight we now have evidence that disconfirms their models of memory. The costs of having an inaccurate model of how memory works are immense.  There are financial and opportunity costs to psychotherapy participants and on occasion there are career costs to psychotherapists who get it wrong.  There are costs associated with getting the model of memory almost correct.  It really is so important to have a full understanding of how memory works, and this is especially true for up and coming psychotherapists.

          As a whole, I think most of us are getting the model of memory slightly wrong: One of my favorite radio hosts, Garrison Keillor, a real sweetheart of a man and a great thinker, said this on his May 6th broadcast of The Writer’s Almanac:

“But whether or not [Freud] is taken seriously in psychology and scientific communities in the way he intended, there is no doubt that Freud’s cultural influence is huge… And most people accept the basic idea that our minds are capable of repressing traumatic experiences or feelings

(Listen here: Writer’s Almanac Audio File May 6, on Freud

I heard this on the radio coming back from CSUN after a day of working on an experiment in which we found that 76% of third year psychology undergraduates agreed with the claim “traumatic memories can be immediately repressed and can be retrieved exactly in therapy decades later.”  So in a way Garrison Keillor was right, most of us do believe this, but it is slightly wrong, and in a shockingly important way.

Sigmond Freud

          The evidence from experiments on memory in cognitive and social psychology, and from studying trauma memory in clinical psychology I think crucially modifies Freud’s traumatic-memory model.  The evidence suggests that traumatic memory is often remembered better than ordinary memory.  Even if trauma can be forgotten, the mechanism of repression is not needed to explain that. This is because traumas are not forgotten at any rate quicker than ordinary events.  In fact, trauma seems to be remembered better and longer, and the fading or forgetting of unpleasant events can be explained by normal memory mechanisms.  It seems that unpleasant events are remembered more persistently and accurately if they are experienced as extremely highly stressful at the time of the experience. Now let’s look at just the tip of the iceberg of the evidence about this (for a fuller review see McNally, 2003). 

          Every now and again rare opportunities crop up to ethically study the effects of corroborated potentially traumatic or unpleasant experiences on memory.  In children, one way this was done was surrounding a painful medical procedure (VCUG) that involved insertion of a tube into the urethra to diagnose urinary tract problems.  Contrary to the idea that unpleasant or traumatic events are immediately repressed: the children had better recall of events when they had more than one VCUG treatments (Goodman, 1994; Quas et al. 1999). 

            A similar study, again using verifiable events, found that children recall accurate, detailed memories of emergency room treatment for lacerations and fractures six months later (Peterson & Bell, 1996).  Consistent findings in these types of studies show that older children have better memory than younger children

            In adults, the evidence points to the same thing. Yuille and Cutshall (1986) found that of those people who had witnessed a fatal shooting, the 5 most distressed witnesses were most accurate at recalling the event, compared to the 7 less stressed witnesses.

            In short, stress and terror seems to improve memory, and there seems to be little corroborated evidence that repression is the usual course of events following a trauma.  So Freud was wrong about trauma being immediately repressed.  He was also wrong about infantile amnesia – it has nothing to do with trauma – because everyone experiences infantile amnesia regardless of trauma.

Wilder Penfeld

          Whereas Freud got most things wrong, the great scientist Wilder Penfeld got most things right, but he didn’t get everything right in his career. One long-lasting mistake came about from his study using electrical stimulation to the human brain whilst the patients were conscious.  He stimulated the temporal lobes (an area important in memory, containing the hippocampus and surrounding structures) and reported that his patients experienced vivid flashbacks.  Penfeld guessed wrong: he wrote that the brain stores in memory everything that has been experienced.  Harvard psychologist Richard McNally (2003) explains where Penfeld went wrong:

 “what his patients termed ‘flashbacks’ were actually little more than sensory fragments accompanied by a feeling of familiarity, and even when entire scenes unfolded, some could not have happened the way they were remembered. For example, one woman saw herself, from the perspective of an observer, as a 7-year-old girl walking through grass.”

And not only that, only 12 out of his 520 patients reported both visual and auditory perceptions (Loftus and Loftus, 1980).  To be perfectly clear about this, research since Penfeld’s time has shown that memory is not recorded like a videotape, all experiences are not stored, and those that are stored are not recalled with absolute accuracy.

            The combination of Freud’s and Penfeld’s mistakes led to an explosion of therapies and treatment approaches that just got the model of memory wrong, sometimes with high costs.  Some of these treatments cropped up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the basic ideas have continued on into treatments still used in 2010. Scientology, starting in the 1950s, for example, has a model of memory that involves engrams: where “Engrams are a complete recording, down to the last accurate detail.” Primal therapy sprung up in the 1970s, drawing from both Penfeld’s and Freud’s errors to conclude that birth traumas can be re-experienced exactly as had happened originally.  Past life therapy took these ideas to the extreme, as did other regression therapies such as rebirthing and UFO abduction regression therapy.  The ultimate result of Penfeld’s and Freud’s guesses were: false memories.  No one intended for this to happen, and I’m sure Penfeld and Freud would not approve of many of these therapies, even at the time, and certainly not in hindsight.

            As for me, I will still listen to Garrison Keillor, after all what he said was correct, most of us do believe in Freud’s trauma repression theory, whether we know it or not. In light of the evidence though, I think that theory may be wrong.  If we get it wrong, trauma victims may get worse psychotherapy treatment than they would if we used a more accurate model of memory.

 ———————————————

There is a mountain of evidence I couldn’t get to here, so for more on the myths and truths about memory see:

http://www.stopbadtherapy.com/myths/repress.shtml

McNally (2005) Debunking Myths About Trauma and Memory

References

Goodman, G. (1994). Predictors of Accurate and Inaccurate Memories of Traumatic Events Experienced in Childhood Consciousness and Cognition, 3 (3-4), 269-294 DOI: 10.1006/ccog.1994.1016

Loftus EF, & Loftus GR (1980). On the permanence of stored information in the human brain. The American psychologist, 35 (5), 409-20 PMID: 7386971

McNally, N. (2003). Remembering Trauma Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Quas JA, Goodman GS, Bidrose S, Pipe ME, Craw S, & Ablin DS (1999). Emotion and memory: Children’s long-term remembering, forgetting, and suggestibility. Journal of experimental child psychology, 72 (4), 235-70 PMID: 10074380

Yuille JC, & Cutshall JL (1986). A case study of eyewitness memory of a crime. The Journal of applied psychology, 71 (2), 291-301 PMID: 3722079

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