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Repression: A mistaken impression?

    • Published online: 01 December 1998

How do clinical observations of repression square with experimental evidence suggesting that emotionally arousing memories are especially enduring? This discrepancy can be understood by examining three kinds of memory distortions that give the impression in a clinical context, of repression. Potentially traumatic events such as childhood sexual abuse (CSA) may be subject to ordinary forgetting. Recent research suggests people who fail to understand the sexual nature of CSA report that they remember it less well. In other words, the event occurred and it was forgotten, but not “repressed.” In addition, people may be wrong about experiencing a period of forgetting, i.e. the event occurred but was never forgotten. Finally, people may believe that a particular traumatic event occurred and was repressed when, in fact, it did not happen in the first place. Under certain circumstances, some combination of these distortions could lead to situations that are mistakenly interpreted as repression.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: E. Loftus, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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