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Repressed memory
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Repressed memory

A repressed memory, according to some theories of psychology, a memory (often traumatic) of an event or environment which is stored by the unconscious mind but outside the awareness of the conscious mind. Some theorize that these memories may be recovered (that is, integrated into consciousness) years or decades after the event.

There currently exists controversy among psychologists as to whether repressed memories actually exist, and even more controversy over whether recovering repressed memories is a legitimate phenomenon. This is particularly important as many controversial criminal cases have been based on witness testimony of recovered repressed memories, often of alleged childhood sexual abuse.

One popular theory on how repression works is that traumatic memories are stored scattered about in the amygdala and hippocampus but not integrated into the neocortex. Also, it could be possible the right brain stores the memory but does not communicate it to the verbal left brain. But evidence suggesting repression can sometimes be a continual active effort by the unconscious which can be dropped at a moments notice should the unconscious decide to and then possibly rerepressed (!) would seem to suggest a more complicated model. For example, one possibility might be the anterior cingular actively inhibits the memory from reaching consciousness.

On the other hand, skeptics of theories of repressed memory suggest that the supposedly "recovered" memories are actually false memories, often based on subtle suggestions by the questioner. Recent research demonstrating the relative ease of deliberately implanting false memories has been cited as evidence for this hypothesis.

A common explanation among proponents of the existence of repression for the widespread skepticism and denial is that the skeptics are denying their own traumatic experiences themselves and/or they are perpetrators themselves.

While it is true false memories, confabulations and screen memories can be implanted/confabulated, as for example, in past life regression and alien abductions, the repression of real documented independently corroborated events followed by a subsequent lifting of the repression has been verified in many cases. However, in many cases, it boils down to the denial of the alleged perpetrator versus the word of the alleged victim. Also, oftentimes, repressed memories are lifted spontaneously without any external suggestion.

See also dissociation, child abuse, birth trauma.