RICHARD J. MCNALLY, SUSAN A. CLANCY, AND
HEIDI M. BARRETT
Most experts agree that people exposed to traumatic events remember them all too well. (For reviews, see McNally, 2003c; Pope, Oliva, & Hudson, 1999.) Indeed, survivors of trauma often report intrusive memories despite their efforts to forget. But debate persists regarding whether a substantial subset of survivors repress, dissociate, or otherwise forget having been traumatized—and then remember it all later (McNally, 2003a). Consider the views of Brown, Scheflin, and Hammond (1998), who proclaim “overwhelming scientific support for the existence of repressed or dissociated memory” (pp. 538–539). Summarizing across studies, they conclude that “generally speaking, approximately a third of sexually abused victims report some period of their lives where they did not remember anything about the abuse and later recovered the memory of the abuse” (p. 196). Yet after considering much of the same evidence, Loftus and Ketcham (1994) published their different conclusions in The Myth of Repressed Memory. How can scholars scrutinize the same evidence yet arrive at such diametrically opposed conclusions?
To address this question, we examine the evidence adduced in support of repressed and recovered memory for traumatic experiences. To provide a fresh perspective on the debate, we also summarize our recent laboratory research on cognitive functioning in people who report repressed, recovered, or continuous memories of trauma.
Some theorists distinguish between repression and dissociation, defining the former as inhibition of taboo urges and the latter as inhibition of disturbing