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A Literature Review: Memory Distortions, Repressed Memories, and Autobiographical Memory

Psych. 560
June 17, 2013
Prof. Pitt

A Literature Review: Memory Distortions, Repressed Memories, and Autobiographical Memory Memory helps to build and shape you into the person that you have become. It allows you to identify people, places that you have been, what things are, when things are supposed to happen or have happened, and it also allows you to piece knowledge together so that you can make perceptions or assumptions as to why things happen the way they do. Your short term memory helps you to recollect things in your present day life while your long term memory stores things for retrieval at a later time. Although you rely on your memory to recount information day to day, there are also instances in which your memory denies retrieval in the way that it was stored or retrieve the information just as you stored it.
Memory distortions, repressed, memories, and autobiographical memory each describe different ways in which your memory responds when you try to recall the information. “Memory distortion refers to a memory report that differs from what actually occurred” (Bernstein & Loftus, 2008). Repressed memories occur when traumatic events are unconsciously recorded in the mind as a defense mechanism to avoid anxiety or other issues that might arise from the occasion. Autobiographical memory suggests that a person retains and retrieves information pertaining to his own life. The articles; The Seven Sins of Memory by Murray (2003), The Recovered Memory Controversy: A New Perspective by Gorman (2008), and Autobiographical Memory and Flexible Proceedings of World Academy of Science: Engineering & Technology by Aizpura & Koutstaal (2010) each give further insight on the memory types as well as how they are encountered.

Memory Distortion

In a research study conducted by the University of Southern California regarding memory distortions, research was conducted which yielded results which shows that the process of making and remembering choice’s yields memories which are not completely accurate and have distortions which occur in predictable manners (California, 2007). This study also looks at different choices which participants were given in recalling memories for choices which were influenced by decisions and if the participant’s level of satisfaction in their choice and how this influences and affects our memories (California, 2007). Memory distortions are very common and occur more then we realize. It is important to understand the seven memory sins and how they influence, change, and distort our memories.
Our memory is not always correct and for many different reasons can be distorted. Memory distortions occur when our memory fails based on a distortion, or flaw in our memory. There are seven ‘Sins,” of memory (Murray, 2003). Transience is when we lose information in our memory over time. Absentmindedness is when we have problems with the relationship and interaction of our attention and long-term memories (Murray, 2003). Blocking is when we cannot retrieve memories in our long term memories (Murray, 2003). These three sins of memory are often referred to as the sins of omission because they are failures to bring something to mind (Robinson-Riegler, G., & Robinson-Riegler, B. (2008). The next four are known as sins of commission. Misattribution is when our memory is attributed to the wrong source (Robinson-Riegler, G., & Robinson-Riegler, B. (2008). Suggestibility is when our memory is a false recollection based on what others have mentioned. Bias is when our memories are distorted based on our influence of self, our personal beliefs and expectations (Robinson-Riegler, G., & Robinson-Riegler, B. (2008). Persistence is when we continually retrieve memories which we do not want to keep reliving and retrieving. Memory distortions are common and when we are better able to understand them we are able to better understand our memory process.
Repressed Memories
There has been an ongoing argument that has not been helpful to either psychology or psychotherapy. The argument stems from repressed memory. Whether or not memories are repressed in the unconscious psychodynamic part of the brain is still a mystery. While many clinical psychologists do not believe that memories can be repressed, a large number of psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists believe it they can and through therapy, they can be recalled. Those who believe it does only believe this is true in the case of childhood sexual abuse (Gorman, 2008). Cognitive memory is believed not to form until about age four. This would require understanding of information to allow sorting and encoding before this information is stored in the long term area. Memories are believed to fade with time and are not like recordings as reconstruction occurs a lot during the recall process. Therefore, even when we recall the events of a traumatic memory, telling these events cannot be as accurate as when the event actually occurred (Gorman, 2008). It is important to remember traumatic experiences in order to avoid reoccurrence.
Many believe that traumatic events are typically stored in the unconscious part of the brain. This belief begun with Sigmund Freud who could not prove that the unconscious mind existed. This led to many laboratory experiments as psychologists were afraid to use human participants during studies. In a study where lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was used to provoke recovery, it was found that participants only recalled memories of birth (Gorman, 2008). In another research done by Gorman, the age at which the event occurred was found to influence neurosis development later in the individual’s life. Mothers were interviewed separately about their conception, their pregnancies, the birth process, and the following four years after the birth. Some of the participating mothers had not had any form of contact with their adult children for quite a while. The study revealed similarity between the mothers’ responses and the children’s whose memories were only recovered. According to Gorman (2008), “The Core Theme of Recovered Memories is of abandonment by mother and all of the powerful emotions expressed during regression, are directed at her…” (p. 4). The study revealed that childhood sexual abuse is only another factor in regard to repressed trauma that causes repressed memories (Gorman, 2008).
Autobiographical Memory
Autobiographical memory involves the retention and the retrieving of experiences from an individual’s personal past. Autobiographical memory is believed to fall in the area of episodic memory. Autobiographical memory covers both specific episodic memories but as well it covers more general semantic autobiographical knowledge. Similar to other forms of memory recall, in autobiographical memory there are quite a few levels of specificity that retrieval can occur in such as: specific details of an event, images, inclusive memories of a specific events. Aizpurua (2010) states that autobiographical memories strengthen the sense of an individual’s self-concept, serves as a social function (ex. bringing out and showing empathy), and also serve a directive function for a variety of behaviors. Some researchers state that differentiation should be made between an episodic subcomponent of autobiographical memory and that of a semantic subcomponent in relation to the retention of general knowledge of an individual’s own past (Aizpurua & Koustaal, 2010). “Event-specific memory differs from life-time period representations and general events in that it mainly consists of more specific sensory-perceptual aspects of events, often including visual imagery rather than abstract, conceptual representations of past experiences” (Aizpurua & Koutstaal, 2010, p. 1631). Aizpura & Koutstaal (2010) conducted a study on the retrieval of autobiographical memory to determine if there are gender differences during free recall. Participants of the study conducted of thirty-six young adults recruited by flyers posted around the University of Maryland and thirty-six older adults were recruited by email and notices that were posted. Subjects were asked to recall an event from three different time periods; recall an event that occurred from the last decade (excluding the last year), recall an event from past year, and recall an event from last week.
Researchers manipulated retrieval support by escalating structure in three phases: recall, general probe and specific probe. In the recall phase subjects talked about their event without interruptions from the researchers. In the general probe phase participants were asked general questions to further recall, for example “is that all you can remember”. Data from both phases were combined. Following the first two phases specific probing was administered at the end of all three time periods. The results of the study determined that there were no differences in recall of autobiographical memory between men and women. However results did show a significance in that men recalled more external data than women. No other significances were reported.

Conclusion In conclusion, you rely on your memory day to day to complete tasks, communicate with others, and to shape your identity. Although the purpose of memory is to recall certain events, situations, and knowledge, there are instances where your memories will not return the same encounters as they were inscribed, they will repress memories so far that they are almost forgotten, and they will also allow you to record things and recall things only about your personal life. Memory distortions, repressed, memories, and autobiographical memory each describe different ways in which your memory responds when you try to recall the information. “Memory distortion refers to a memory report that differs from what actually occurred” (Bernstein & Loftus, 2008). Repressed memories occur when traumatic events are unconsciously recorded in the mind as a defense mechanism to avoid anxiety or other issues that might arise from the occasion. Autobiographical memory suggests that a person retains and retrieves information pertaining to his own life. Finding ways to exercise your memory through things such as repetition, will allow you to have undeniable access to your storage and decrease your chances of forgetting.

References
Aizpurua, A., & Koutstaal, W. (2010). Autobiographical memory and flexible proceedings of world academy of science: Engineering & Technology, 66, p1631-1637.
Bernstein, D. & Loftus, E. (2008). Memory distortion. Retrieved on June 17, 2013, from http://bernsteincognitionlab.files.wordpress.com.
California, U. o. (2007, January 18). Emotion & cognition lab. Retrieved from University of Southern California : http://www.usc.edu/projects/matherlab/s/memorydistortionchoices.html.
Gorman, G. (2008). The recovered memory controversy: A new perspective. European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 8(1), 22-31.
Murray, B. (2003, October). The seven sins of memory. Retrieved from APA Monitor: http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct03/sins.aspx.
Robinson-Riegler, G., & Robinson-Riegler, B. (2008). Cognitive psychology: Applying the science of the mind (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.…...

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