Psychological vulnerability: How ‘fake memories’ can affect survivors

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth, working with the victims’ families, recreated a sexual assault scene in the UK. Other researchers have led studies on a man’s own memories of what happened. Some have…

Psychological vulnerability: How 'fake memories' can affect survivors

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth, working with the victims’ families, recreated a sexual assault scene in the UK.

Other researchers have led studies on a man’s own memories of what happened. Some have found convincing evidence that many do not stick to their original story.

But others have produced inadequate evidence, or possible evidence that has been misinterpreted.

In response to one recent study involving “false memory” in asylum seekers, the BBC put the technique to a group of experts.

False memory is damaging to victims and potentially dangerous for police investigations, so how serious is the issue?

What is false memory?

” False memory is the creation of false memories that undermine the reliability of memories,” says University of Portsmouth expert Dr Margaret Simpson.

“For instance, if the example is changing the past time to a time at a present moment and there are no contradictory facts in the present, it is called ‘false memory.’

“It only becomes a serious problem when false memories are used in conjunction with other false facts, such as leading to the killing of a person.

“Often, false memories are encouraged or produced by captions that could be stated as having occurred in the past. They could be provided by the perpetrator who gave false information.”

When is it believed to be happening?

Real life examples of false memories are rare, but false memory researchers try to find such cases.

Dr Simpson says that someone could remember an event that happened too long ago or too far away for it to be real, but that someone also may remember an event that happened in a distant location, but under certain circumstances.

Without exception, these cases are usually false memories created by the perpetrator, who instigated the trauma or caused psychological stress to the victim which then led to their memory being formed.

In cases of false memory and what we know about the cases, there is often confusion between which event they remember and which event is remembered.

If someone claims to have been brutally raped, and when confronted by someone who did not have sex with them, they sometimes have difficulty knowing the real incident.

What is the link between false memory and the sexual assault?

We know that false memories may be skewed by the victim’s environment.

These include old traumatic memories of other rape and abuse cases, poor police training, damaged physical and mental health, and fear about intimate relations and infidelity.

In the case of rape, people are more likely to remember the attack if they may have been mistreated.

And an assault may have been carried out by a perpetrator you are afraid of.

It can be complicated by numerous traumatic factors that may be affecting the victim’s recovery.

So if you have an accurate memory of the day after the assault, what is its significance?

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