08 September 2016, The Tablet

Beyond recall


The Memory Illusion: remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory

Memories, argues psychologist Julia Shaw, are not always an accurate record of the past. They can be manipulated, and in some cases completely fabricated. Much of Dr Shaw’s book is an entertaining explication of the science of memory but, as she goes on to explain, false memories generated by poor interviewing techniques or in some therapeutic settings may sometimes lead to “real horrors”.

Two examples – the 1980s “recovered memory” movement and the 1990s “satanic panic” – demonstrate how false memories can be implanted through suggestibility, leading questions, pressure and inducements. As a lawyer who represents genuine victims of sexual abuse, and has also represented children wrongly implicated in the “satanic panic”, I found this part of the book particularly illuminating and instructive.

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