Friday, December 02, 2011

False memories....

Funny how headlines  can spark a writer's imagination.  Gini Graham Scott, PhD outlines the issue of whether-or-not people can plant false memories in others.  We learn the history of the debate and the legalities involved...and then she takes the issue for a  lively ride...

How about some good ones?
Gini Graham Scott, PhD

Accusations of planting false memories are in the news again. In the 1980s and 1990s ago, there were a spate of repressed memory claims by women who suddenly remembered that their fathers, step-fathers, teachers, or others had abused them and even subjected them to Satan rituals, and a number of accused perpetrators were convicted.  But then in the early 1990s some of the accused fought back against the therapists, claiming these were false memories, and sometimes they won their cases and some patients retracted their claims, saying they had been swayed by the influence of their therapists to falsely believe something happened.  Some patients even won million dollar verdicts against therapists for planting recovered memories.  In fact, at the height of the interest in this topic, I wrote a fictionalized court case with two opposing attorneys, YOU THE JURY by Mark E. Roseman and William B. Craig, where one represented the victims claiming rediscovered memories and the other represented the accused claiming the memories were false.  Then, the controversy seems to have died out for the past decade.

However, now the issue of repressed memories seems to have gained a new life, according to an ABC News Article about a woman claiming a psychologist hypnotized her into “believing she possessed multiple personalities and participated in satanic rituals.” And several others who were told they were part of a satanic cult may sue as well. As the article: “Therapist ‘Brainwashed’ Woman Into Believing She Was in a Satanic Cult, Attorney Says” explains, Lisa Nasseff, 41, of Saint Paul, Minnesota is suing her former therapist, Mark Schwarz, and the Castlewood Treatment Center in St. Louis, Missouri for creating this false memory.  According to the suit, she went to the therapist there for 15 months to treat her anorexia, and when Schwarz hypnotized her to treat her depression and anxiety, she came to believe she had been involved in a satanic cult in which she participated in various criminal and other terrible acts.  She even came to believe she had sacrificed her sister’s baby on Satan’s alter. Then she discovered other women treated at the facility who had similar stories of being in cults two or three years before but they didn’t know it until they remembered under treatment. 

While the therapist and treatment center have denied doing any such thing, the False Memory Center, founded in 1992, supports the position that false memories can result from a variety of influences, such as the opinion of an authority figure, information repeated in a culture, and an individual wanting to please or conform.  And creative imaginative people can find it especially easy to come up with all sorts of images in response to being influenced.  So it is possible to possible to implant memories, including witnessing a demonic possession or being abused.

Well, assuming all of that is true about being able to implant all of these horrible memories, my question is what about the possibility of implanting good memories?  Then, rather than wanting to sue their therapists or others implanting such memories, people might actually like to have such good memories, even if they are false, implanted in them.  And the experience of these memories might be so powerful, that they might feel very real – or at least for a time, while they savor that great experience.

Then, if that’s the case, I could even imagine some entrepreneur creating a business of implanting good memories for someone to enjoy.  For example, suppose one wants to remember a joyous experience of going somewhere with a romantic partner?  What if one wants to recall wonderful childhood experiences with one’s friends or parents?  Or what about recalling how one won the lottery and had a wonderful time going to fine restaurants and traveling to exotic destinations all over the world. One could even have exciting memories of past lives as other people. The possibilities are endless. Whoever is implanting the memories just has to find out what kind of positive memories someone wants to have and then use a deep hypnotic state to implant them, much like the therapists accused of planting false memories of abuse or ritual membership are supposed to have done.

In short, if it’s possible to implant harmful false memories, why wouldn’t it be possible to implant joyful false memories – and in that case, why wouldn’t many people want to do just that, and perhaps even replace their real memories of difficult times with happy memories that bring them satisfaction and joy. 

So why not try it?  It might be fun to remember the way you’d like things to be rather than remembering the way things really were – or at least you might like to enjoy the experience for a little while before coming back to reality and the way things are.  Or then again, maybe it might be best to stay in touch with what’s really real. Or maybe not.  I’m not sure. But sometimes I sure would like to pick and choose my memories.  Would you?  Or maybe not?

Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books and a speaker/seminar leader, specializing in social trends, work relationships, professional development, and writing and publishing books. Her latest books include THE TRUTH ABOUT LYING; WANT IT, SEE IT, GET IT!; and USING LINKEDIN TO PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS OR YOURSELF. She also helps clients write, publish, and promote their own books and find publishers and agents through Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She has a publishing company Changemakers Publishing and writes screenplays, both her own and for clients.  Her Websites are at  and



Author Peg Herring said...

My sister and I often compare memories of childhood, and it's weird to see how different they are sometimes. Once we witnessed a car accident while riding our horses. She recalls that we went to the scene and helped the people. I recall that we went home and told our parents. The reading I've done on the brain suggests that it can not only store reality but also can create its own version. Spooky.

Eileen Schuh: said...

Of course there is always the "Many Worlds" theory of alternate universes that we can use to explain these things. However, that theory is not any less spooky, as my heroine in Schrödinger's Cat discovers.