Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Reliability of Birth Memory: Observations from Mother and Child Pairs in Hypnosis*

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Reliability of Birth Memory: Observations from Mother and Child Pairs in Hypnosis*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: For almost a century clinicians have encountered birth memories and wondered if they were real memories or creative fantasies. Empirical studies have revealed both the fallibility and validity of human memory. In this study a side-by-side comparison was made of birth memories obtained in hypnosis from ten children (ages 9 to 23) who had no conscious memories of birth, and their mothers who claimed they had never shared details of the birth with them. Their independent reports were found to be coherent with each other, to contain a wealth of appropriate and accurate facts, and to match exactly at many points. A variety of human errors were also found in reports but serious contradictions/fantasies were rare. Accuracies and inaccuracies are illustrated and discussed and the need for caution noted. Birth memories appear to be real memories and contain valuable information about birth from the baby's point of view.

Since the late nineteenth century, some psychotherapists have contended that certain kinds of psychopathology could be caused by birth trauma and the underlying affect might represent an unconscious form of birth memory. Otto Rank,1 the principal spokesman for this view around the turn of the century, has since been joined by Fodor2 and Hall3 who pointed to the amount of birth material in dreams, by Kelsey4 who reported clients spontaneously re-living birth events in hypnotherapy, by Janov,5 who discovered clients articulating similar episodes during primal therapy, and by Grof,6 whose patients under the influence of LSD, related analogous experiences.

Obstetrician David Cheek, using a technique for subconscious reviewing in hypnosis, traced numerous physical and psychological problems back to apparent imprinting at birth.7 He has also learned from pregnant women that complications at delivery can represent a spontaneous outbreak of their own bad memories of birth.8 Adults who say that they have always had fragments of birth memory (a relatively rare occurrence) report that it has been difficult to get anyone to believe them. Recently Mathison9 discovered that children under three could spontaneously report their birth memories in words and gestures to parents with startling authenticity.9 Empirical investigations of memory have been contradictory and illustrate how fragile and fallible memory can be.10 Experimental subjects have been irrevocably influenced by misinformation added after original memories were laid down.11 The unreliability of eyewitness memory is well documented by Loftus.12,13 The errors possible in court data based on hypnotic recall might lead one to despair of finding truthful memories by any means whatsoever.14

Other studies show that memories can be valid and accurate. By making careful use of ideomotor finger signals in hypnosis, Cheek15 showed that ten out of ten adult subjects were able to demonstrate the exact sequential movements of head and shoulders involved in their own deliveries. None of these persons had any knowledge of the mechanisms involved.

Similarly, an experiment in age regression by Raikov16 has provided evidence that in deep hypnosis subjects can exhibit a range of genuine neurological reflexes and behaviors of infancy: uncoordinated eye movements, sucking reflexes, the foot bending reflex and spontaneous movements of the extremities. Subjects were filmed and the results authenticated by independent neurologists. A follow-up study made it clear that these results could not be duplicated by professional actors, even when behaviors were suggested to them in hypnosis.17

Working with hypnotically induced deafness and analgesia, Hilgard,18 has found fresh evidence that part of the mind experiences, records, and can later faithfully report what is forgotten by another part. In the case of hypnotically suggested deafness, one part of consciousness made the expected report of hearing nothing, while another part, dubbed the "Hidden Observer," was hearing everything. …

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