IPT Book Reviews


The Recovered Memory/False Memory Debate   Negative Review

Editors: Kathy Pezdek and Williams P. Banks
Publisher: Academic Press, Inc. 1996

Academic Press, Inc.
Harcourt Brace & Company
525 B Street, Suite 1900
San Diego, CA 92101-4495
(800) 321-5068
$49.95 (c)

This 394-page book consists of 22 chapters by well-known researchers and clinicians representing different positions in the recovered memory debate. The chapters are divided into four main sections. References follow each chapter and there is a brief (just over one page) and not particularly helpful index at the end.

The first section consists of five chapters on childhood trauma and memory, primarily in clinical contexts. The four chapters in the second section present contrasting theories regarding infantile amnesia and children's autobiographical memories. The third section consists of contrasting research and contradictory conclusions on distortion and suggestibility in childhood memory. For example, Kathy Pezdek interprets her research as suggesting that memories for childhood memories, although imperfect, are unlikely to be confabulated. In contrast, Stephen Ceci and his colleagues describe ongoing research (an extenuation of the "mousetrap" study) that illustrates young children's vulnerability to source misattribution errors.

The fourth and last section, on repressed memory and recovered memory, contains seven chapters by both researchers and clinicians and presents both sides of the debate. The three clinicians in this section were members of the APA Working Group that considered the issue of recovered memories and issued a final report in 1996. (The three researchers in the APA Working Group, Elizabeth Loftus, Peter Ornstein, and Stephen Ceci, are also contributors to this book.) The APA interim report, along with the report of the Working Party of the British Psychological Society, end the book.

The editors state that they "tried to hew a middle course, looking for value in all sides" (p. xii) but note that, although they invited authors from all sides of the issue, many were unable to contribute. They maintain, however, that they achieved the goal of a balanced volume and comment that the process of editing the volume highlighted for them many unanswered questions. The volume does succeed in presenting both sides and for the professional who is unfamiliar with the issues, the book may be useful. I also found the four chapters on infantile amnesia valuable in that they clearly presented, in one place, contrasting understandings and theories regarding this phenomenon.

But for those who have followed the debate, this book presents little new. Of the 22 chapters, 13 were previously published elsewhere. In fact, 10 of the chapters are reprinted from Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 3, 1994. Given the lengthy time period from the time a journal article is first submitted until it is published, and the fact that these were published two years before the book, the material is quite dated. Given the rapid developments in this field, the volume would have been much more useful had it contained new information.

Even the chapters written for this volume present little new, but only repeat what the authors have written elsewhere. For example, Lenore Terr describes at length her experience with the children of Chowchilla (first published in 1979), and her case studies of 20 children traumatized under the age of 5 (published in 1988).

I do not recommend this book to professionals who are familiar with the issues and the debate over recovered memories.

Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

Order this book: Hardcover

Visit our Bookstore

  [Back to Volume 8, Number 3/4]

Copyright 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.