Saturday, 19 March 2016

Dreaming & False Memory Syndrome

“Most people, probably, are in doubt about certain matters ascribed to their past. They may have seen them, may have said them, done them, or they may only have dreamed or imagined they did so.”
– William James

False Memory Syndrome
False Memory Syndrome, is the phenomenon by which an individual's identity, emotions and relationships are affected by a fabricated or false memory which they believe to be true. There have been numerous, interesting studies into the phenomenon of false memory and mistaken beliefs in both dream studies and in other contexts, such as eyewitness testimony. First, we shall consider some of the psychological studies into the phenomenon of false memory, and then consider how this theme relates to dreams and dreaming.

Please note that nothing in this article is intended to discredit or ignore victim narratives, disclosure and testimony about early childhood sexual abuse. This article looks at the ways in which therapy and dream interpretation may create false memories in some individuals and my criticism is restricted solely to those in a position to abuse their professional role, damaging their patients or clients. I have experienced one case, in my on personal life as a law student, in which the possibility of false or distorted memories, encouraged and drawn out by a counsellor resulted in criminal proceedings - although the defence did not rely on false memories (there was no need as the defendant was able to raise an iron-clad defence with evidence), this highlighted to me the dangers of therapists suggesting that someone has been abused where there was no other corroborative evidence. In this case, the complainant was a young adult. She accused her grandfather of childhood abuse. Until she went into therapy, she had never suspected childhood abuse or had cause to think about it. She went into therapy for depression and anxiety. She was recommended to the therapist by a friend, who told her that she was seeing the therapist herself because she had been a victim of abuse. The complainant asked her new therapist 'what if I was also abused?' and the therapist was able to - using a variety of techniques - uncover repressed memories, including one incident which allegedly happened when the complainant was in her mid-teens, and was 'recalled' vividly (while childhood amnesia may explain why early experiences are repressed and not accessible by normal memory i.e. events taking place before the age of 3 years - there is no suggestion that the complainant could have repressed the event that took place when she was in her teenage years, as she was able to recall everything about her life at that time and even gave evidence as to what the weather was like on that day and where her family were when she was in the house with the defendant). The therapist gave evidence of her techniques which expose flaw in the way she had treated the complainant - in fact, she made the complainant's mental health and emotional trauma worse as a result of drawing out 'memories' of abuse she had not 'remembered' and the consequential breakdown of her family. The jury were persuaded that the defendant had not abused her and in fact, if her 'memories' were the basis of the evidence against him, they were inaccurate and imagined - not through any fault of her own, but as a result of an 'expert' encouraging her to imagine herself as a victim, until she was confused as to what was real and what was not. 

As we all know, the brain is far too complex for humans to fully understand and explain. Neuroscience and psychology are continually finding new evidence which increases our awareness of mental phenomenon. However, it is correct to say that memory is one area of mental process in which errors or distortions regularly occur. One of the many theories of memory function and error is the fuzzy trace theory, which was developed by Charles Brainerd & Valerie Reyna. Under this theory, people create two kinds of memory traces: verbatim traces (which record surface sensory information such as smell, colour, and sound); and gist traces (which are identified with more abstract details of an event, such as interpretations, elaborations, or meanings). Verbatim traces are more robust over time, while gist traces are susceptible to interference and fragmentation – as well as re-interpretation. According to the proponents of such theories, false memories are created when people’s memories rely exclusively in gist traces, or when verbatim memories are confused with memories from another source. An error of 'omission' relates to forgetting; while an error of 'commission' relates to the creation of a false memory. Some false memories may be spontaneous and natural, while others may have been implanted. While children are more susceptible and suggestible, research has found that younger children are less likely to create false memories than older children or adults. False memories are no less stable than true ones either - false memories may actually be more persistent than true ones. This is because they are formed from gist traces, rather than verbatim ones, and therefore are less vulnerable to interference or forgetting.

Another theory, the source monitoring framework, argues that false memories are created when people mistakenly believe imaginary events are autobiographic events. According to this theory, people don’t have the memory outright, instead we look for a variety of sensory cues. A source monitoring error may occur when a specifically recollected event is wrongly believed to be the source of a memory. 

In 1990 George Franklin became the first ever US citizen convicted of murder by a witness who recovered repressed memories more than 20 years after the event. The witness was his daughter, Eileen. Franklin was released in when irregularities were discovered in Eileen’s evidence: it emerged she had been hypnotised before testifying. In many jurisdictions, it would be impossible for a hypnotized witness to give testimony due to the fact that hypnotised persons are highly susceptible and therefore not credible witnesses. Even without the use of hypnosis, memories can be very vulnerable to external influence, and there is considerable empirical evidence that false memories of events which did not happen can be implanted into a person’s mind.

False memories are hard to research for one simple reason: it’s difficult to verify whether the memories in question are false or not (Loftus, 1993). Often a considerable amount of time has passed since the original event and it’s not possible to corroborate what people say or find evidence to support or reject the validity of the memory.

Jean Piaget, the esteemed child psychologist, claimed that his earliest memory was of nearly being kidnapped at the age of 2 years. He remembered seemingly vivid details such as sitting in his baby carriage, watching the nurse defend herself against the kidnapper, scratches on the nurse's face, and a police officer with a short cloak and a white baton chasing the kidnapper away. This dramatic account was reinforced by the nurse, the family and others, who had heard the story. Piaget was convinced that he remembered the event, despite the fact it never actually happened. Thirteen years after the alleged kidnapping attempt, Piaget's former nurse wrote to his parents to confess that she had made up the entire story. Piaget later wrote: ‘I therefore must have heard, as a child, the account of this story...and projected it into the past in the form of a visual memory, which was a memory of a memory, but false’.

In a seminal study, Loftus & Pickrell (1995) recruited 24 participants who were to be presented with 4 stories from when they were between 4 - 6 years old, (3 of which were true, and 1 false). The true stories were sourced from the participants’ families, and involved events which were not traumatic or emotionally difficult to recall. The families were then asked to provide the circumstances for the ‘false’ event – a plausible event which could have possibly happened, but actually had not. The participants were informed that they were involved in a study about their ability to recall details of childhood memories and were each given a written description of the 4 events provided by their family. They were asked to provide information about which events they remembered. Afterwards, the participants were interviewed and were reminded of the 4 memory events they had been asked about. They were asked to recall as much information about them as possible. A week later, a second interview took place and a similar procedure was followed. The participants then rated the clarity of their memories. 

It was then revealed to them that one of the memories was false and they were asked to guess which one it was. Of the 24 participants, 5 falsely recalled the fabricated event as a real memory, although participants understandably found the implanted memory much less clear than the memory of actual events which had indeed taken place. Considering the very low level of suggestion or coercion involved in the interviews, the experiment reveals that it is possible to implant false memories. 

A later study with more participants which examined a wider range of memories was carried out by Hyman & Pentland (1996). This study revealed that, depending on experimental variables, at least some kind of false memory could be implanted in between 20% and 40% of participants. 

In ‘A picture is worth a thousand lies’, Wade et al used a doctored photograph of a fictitious balloon flight to implant false memories (Wade, Garry, Read & Lindsay, 2002). Using similar interview procedures to Loftus & Pickrell (1995), they found that 50% of participants created either complete or partial false memories of the flight. 

One major problem with these sorts of studies is that they only implant inconsequential memories. Traumatic memories, such as those claimed by Franklin’s daughter, might be a completely different matter. However, it would be unethical to conduct an empirical study in which traumatic false memories are implanted into a participant, which means it is extremely difficult to obtain data on this area. Despite this, the Paul Ingram experiment is one of the most bizarre and dramatic false memory studies ever documented and provides some insight into the phenomenon. 

In 1988 Paul Ingram (a police officer) was arrested for sexually abusing his 2 daughters, an allegation he strongly denied. Over an extended period of 5 months, however, he was subjected to pressure by fellow police officers, psychologists and other advisors, suggesting he had committed child abuse, including having raped his own daughters. Eventually Ingram began to confess to all manner of rapes, child sexual abuses and even to participation in a Satan-worshipping cult which had allegedly murdered 25 babies. 

The prosecution at Ingram’s trial brought in renowned memory researcher, Dr Richard Ofshe, who became suspicious of Ingram’s credibility. To test Ingram, Ofshe fabricated a story in which Ingram’s son and daughter claimed he had forced them to have sex with each other while he watched, this having been confirmed as false by the son and daughter in advance. 

Over a period of hours, Ingram, who had initially denied the memory, began to generate false memories of the event taking place and was eventually able to write a 3-page confession to the crime which had not taken place. This raised serious questions as what else Ingram may have falsely confessed to under such intense pressure and suggestion. Unfortunately the evidence from Ofshe was not made available until after Ingram’s conviction and the defendant was unable to withdraw his guilty plea. He remained in prison until 2003 and remains a registered sex offender, despite significant doubts as to his actual guilt. 

Both the case of Paul Ingram and the experimental laboratory studies on false memories represent two extremes of a continuum. At one end, when politely and subtly asked (within the context of a psychology study), some people can be induced into believing relatively benign false memories - perhaps as many as 50%. At the other end of the spectrum, when placed under incredible psychological pressure, such as in the case of Ingram, dangerous or traumatic false memories can be implanted, which may have long-term and highly adverse consequences for either the subject or others, such as parents/carers accused of abuse, recovered through therapy.

Eyewitness Testimony
Studies into the implanting or false memories or the misattribution/distortion of memory have impact on how we treat the issue of eyewitness testimony and it's reliability. Another dramatic case study which highlights the potential dangers of false memories/beliefs.

In 1975, Australian psychologist Donald M Thomson appeared on a TV show about the psychology of eyewitness testimony. The day after the television broadcast Thomson arrested by local police following an allegation that he had entered the apartment of a female, and raped her, leaving her unconscious. The victim named Thomson as her attacker. This was despite the fact he had a water-tight alibi – at the time of the rape he was being recorded for the TV show and in the presence of the assistant police commissioner who was able to corroborate his offence. It appeared that the victim had been watching Thomson on TV immediately prior to her attack and then confused his face with that of the actual rapist – encoding Thomson’s face instead. How ironic that a psychologist, discussing eyewitness testimony in criminal cases, was falsely accused as a result of a grossly distorted memory of an event occurring at the same time he was explaining the phenomenon on a TV show. 

Thomson was completely exonerated of the crime for which he was accused, but many others have not been so lucky. Wells and his colleagues have identified 40 separate incidents of miscarriages of justice in the USA, which have relied on eyewitness testimony (Wells et al, 1998). Many of these falsely convicted people served many years in prison, some even facing death sentences. 

Thomson’s ordeal, though, is a perfect example of Harvard psychologist Daniel Schacter’s fourth sin of memory, 'misattribution' (Schacter, 1999). Unlike the first 3 sins, which all involve being unable to access memories, this is the first sin that involves the creation of false memories. When a memory is ‘misattributed’ some original true aspect of a memory becomes distorted through time, space or circumstances. 

While misattributions can have disastrous consequences, most are not so dramatic in everyday circumstances. Like the other sins of memory, misattributions are probably a daily occurrence for most people. Some examples that have been studied in the lab are: 
  • Misattributing the source of memories. People regularly say they read something in the newspaper, when actually a friend told them or they saw it in an advert. In one study participants with ‘normal’ memories regularly made the mistake of thinking they had acquired a trivial fact from a newspaper, when actually the experimenters had supplied it (Schacter, Harbluk, & McLachlan, 1984) 
  • Misattributing a face to the wrong context. This is exactly what happened to Thomson. Studies have shown that memories can become blended together, so that faces and circumstances are merged 
  • Misattributing an imagined event to reality. An experiment by Goff & Roediger (1998) demonstrates how easily our memory can transform fantasy into reality. Participants were asked either to imagine performing an action or actually asked to perform it i.e. breaking a toothpick. Sometime later they went through the same process again. Subsequently, they were asked whether they had performed that action or just imagined it. Those who imagined the actions more frequently the second time were more likely to think they’d actually performed the actions the first time 

Schacter (1999) also identifies another very common type of misattribution: when we attribute an idea or memory to ourselves that really belongs to someone else. The individual falsely recall generating the idea (of another) and experience the memory of the material erroneously, interpreting it as 'new inspiration' or an original idea of their own. Unintentional plagiarism (Cryptomnesia) has been examined in a number of studies. In one straightforward early study people were asked to generate examples of particular categories of items, like species of birds. It was found that people, without realising, plagiarised each other about 4% of the time (Brown & Murphy, 1989). 

Subsequent studies using more naturalistic procedures have found much higher rates using different types of tasks – sometimes as much as 27%. That’s a very high rate and probably helps to explain why we see so much unintentional repetition across many different areas of human culture. For example, former Beatle George Harrison was sued for breach of copyright on the grounds that he (unintentionally) plagiarised a Chiffons’ hit ‘He’s So Fine’ in his own song 'My Sweet Lord' (1970), a claim which started in 1971 and was not settled until the 1990s.

Additionally, the brains of infants and very young children are capable of storing fragmented memories. These fragmented memories may be disturbing for adults who cannot piece together the entire memory of the actual event. Schacter notes the case of a rape victim who could not remember the rape, which took place on a brick pathway. The words ‘brick’ and ‘path’ kept popping into her mind, but she did not connect them to the rape. She became very upset when taken back to the scene of the rape, though she didn't remember what had happened there (Schacter 1996). Whether a fragmented memory of infant abuse can cause significant psychological damage in the adult has not been scientifically established, though it seems to be widely believed by many psychotherapists who focus on this phenomenon.

Although memories often have some basis in reality, whether we’ve mixed up some details or even the memory’s source, sometimes they are just completely false. During the 1960s and 1970s psychologists discovered a way of reproducing this false memory effect in the lab. 

In the classic study conducted by James Deese at Johns Hopkins University, participants are given lists of semantically related words, for example a list of colours (Deese, 1959). Later they have to try and recall them, at which point they often recall related words that were not actually presented. 

Later studies have replicated this finding using more complicated procedures that help to counteract some of the problems with this early study. Nevertheless there is still the question of whether these laboratory-based tasks really do tell us anything about how we behave in the real world. Are we really this prone to completely false memories in real life? New evidence suggests we may well be. Brown & Marsh (2008) found that some people could be induced to think they had visited an unfamiliar place simply by being shown photos of that location. 

These types of studies on the misattributions of memories can be existentially disturbing, because each of us is effectively the accumulation of our experiences and memories. The nature of our identity is inextricably linked to what events we have experienced and what we remember about our life. 

Discovering the scientific evidence for how easily memories become confused, distorted or falsified is like discovering that part of ourselves is fabricated. Memories are derived not only from our real-lives, but also our fantasies, dreams and imaginations. 

Schacter suggests that misattributions may actually be useful to us (Schacter, 1999). The ability to extract, abstract and generalise our experience enables us to apply lessons we’ve learnt in one domain to another. Often, we simply don’t need to know the exact details of an experience: just the outcome or general gist of what took place. Additionally, when we actually do need to know the details, we can take steps to encode the memory securely so we are less likely to make misattributions.

Dream Interpretation & False Memories
Dream interpretation is a useful tool for understanding the self and the subconscious, and is often employed by therapists in a clinical setting. However, there is some research (Mazzoni et al, 1999) to suggest that dream interpretation could lead to false beliefs about the subject's past which could be detrimental to them. 

Freudian dream interpretation dominated psychology until the 1950s, when it's importance as an analytical method began to waver with the increase of cognitive and behavioural psychology, which largely overlook dream work as an effective form of therapy. Despite a decline in the use of dream interpretation in psychology, there are still a number of professionals who emphasise its role and significance, particularly when dealing with subjects who have suffered previous trauma or abuse.

Dreaming represents a direct link to the subconscious mind, a process in which repressed memories may present themselves in symbolic fragments - Freud described them as the 'royal road to the unconscious' and used dream interpretation as a means of uncovering traumatic experiences which have been repressed. 

Until the 1950s psychoanalysis and dream interpretation was used prominently in therapy, but since the emergence of other disciplines, such as behaviourism, humanism and cognitive psychology, there is less emphasis on dream interpretation in the clinical setting. However, some therapists still use dreams as a tool for clinical treatment and view dreams as an 'exact replica' of the traumatic event (van der Kolk et al (1984)). Frederickson (1992) has stated that dreams are often the first sign of emerging memories - specifically within the context of sexual abuse. 

One of the issues with this conceptualisation of dreaming is the potential for false beliefs and false memories to be accepted as real. This is particularly true if the dreamer received subtle suggestion from the therapist - a study by Mazzoni et al (1996) showed this effect. It was shown that after a single subtle suggestion, participants falsely recognized items from their dreams and thought that these items had been presented in a list that they learned during the waking state. The participants first learned a key list of words and in a later session, they received a false suggestion that some items from their previously reported dreams had been presented on the key list. Finally, in a third session, they tried to recall the items that had occurred on the initial key list. 

A major finding was that participants often falsely recognized their dream items and thought they had been presented on the key list, sometimes as often as they accurately recognized true list items. Despite the high rate of false recognition, and the conviction that participants had about these false memories, it is reasonable to question whether the same kind of results would occur with more personally meaningful events, for example - the sexual abuse referred to above.

In the Florence False Interpretation Study, Mazzoni developed a new methodology for testing whether dream interpretation can lead to participants developing false beliefs about the past. In the study of 128 undergraduate students, the participants were asked if they had experienced a number of critical life events before the age of 3 years old - such as being lost in a public place or feeling abandoned by their parents. The study focused on students who reported that such critical life events had (most likely) not taken place. 

The participants were then divided into 'dream' groups (the experimental group, which would receive manipulated dream interpretations) and a control group. The participants in the 'dream' group then underwent a therapy session with a clinical psychologist and received dream interpretation. In each dream interpretation, regardless of the actual dream content, the participants were told that the dream indicated they had experienced the critical life events they had denied happening. The key feature of the manipulation of the dream interpretation was the suggestion that the dream was the overt manifestation of repressed memories relating to events which took place before the age of 3 years. The clinical psychologist did the following:
  • He commented on specific items in the dream and tried to relate those items to possible feelings that the participant might have - i.e. a cold day was symbolic of cold emotions etc 
  • He tried to induce the participant to agree with and expand on his interpretation 
  • He provided a global interpretation of the dream's meaning. In the example, the clinician suggested that possibly the participant was not totally happy with himself, needed challenge, resisted help, and so forth 
  • He suggested the possibility that specific events of childhood are commonly associated with dream reports like the one provided by the particular participant he was interviewing 
  • He explicitly suggested that such events had happened to the participant, and he asked for the participant's agreement with that suggestion 
  • When the participant did not recall such an event, the psychologist explained that unpleasant childhood experiences can be buried (repressed), and remain unremembered, but are often revealed in dreams 

A period of 10 - 15 days lapsed between the therapy session and a final session, where the participants were again asked if they had ever experienced one of the critical life events mentioned by the psychologist.

Analysis of the results showed that participants in the 'dream' group were caused to become more certain they had experienced the critical life event which they had previously claimed they felt was unlikely. The critical life events the participants reported having experienced in the first 3 years of their lives were the specific ones referred to by the psychologist. This raised questions as to whether the participant's belief they had experienced a negative event was restricted specifically to the critical life event suggested to them, or created a general notion that they had experienced other negative events in infancy. 

Both the 'dream' and 'control' groups were tested on a number of 'negative filler items', such as 'witnessing someone dying' or 'threatened by a stranger'. The researchers found that there was no significant link between the manipulated dream interpretation and a participant reporting having experienced one of the negative filler items - the manipulated dream interpretation only had influence on the critical life events specifically suggested by the psychologist. 

One explanation put forward by Mazzoni is that the manipulated dream interpretation created a 'true belief' in the participant, reminding them of a true experience which did occur in their early life, which had been forgotten, The memory was unlikely to have been triggered during the therapy session itself, because no participants reported such, but was probably recalled in the period between the therapy session and the final session. The age of 3 years was chosen, as many adults are unable to remember childhood events before this age (due to childhood amnesia). It was concluded that the where the report of the critical life event happening was given, the participant may have remembered the event which happened after the age of 3 years, but mistakenly 'remembered' it as taking place at an earlier age. This is a distorted belief or memory. The other conclusion which can be drawn from the data is that the manipulated dream interpretation created a false belief in the participant, who was susceptible to suggestion. 

This study has important implications for therapists who undertake dreamwork. It show that people are susceptible to suggestion which takes place in a therapeutic environment. There is evidence to suggest that some therapists do make suggestions to patients/clients based on dream reports (Cartwright & Lamberg, Crisis Dreaming (1992), p. 185). The fact that it may be possible to subtly manipulate a person into falsely believing that they have experienced an event which did not in fact take place, so that the person has a 'false memory' of the event taking place is very dangerous - and highlights the power that a therapist holds. It is especially problematic where a therapist encourages a patient/client to believe they may have experienced childhood abuse and repressed any memory. 

My Experiences of False or Distorted Memories & Dreaming
Dreams may create false memories due to familiarity. Dreams seem to be made up mainly of memory traces and fragments which are reconstituted into a new narrative form and may be given a new meaning within the context of the dream. 

Michael Willmann 'Jacob's Dream of a Ladder of Angels' c. 1690 (original pictured top, middle & bottom are my distortions of the image, an analogy to the distortions which occur in our memories)

In some of my dreams, my 'dream mind' tells me that I am re-living a 'real-life memory' such as in Dream 585- 'I've Seen this Before', where I was convinced within my dream that I was 'remembering' a real-life memory where I had performed the same action (avoiding watching a scene where an eyeball is sliced with a razorblade). In the dream, I had a clear visualisation of the real-life memory - in this 'real-life memory' DL and I were in his flat watching the same film as I had been watching in the dream, and - just like in the dream - when the eyeball scene came on, I (and DL) covered our own eyes to avoid seeing it happen. In the dream I 'remembered' that this was on a weekend evening (given I go round to DL's house on weekends and we watch TV together) and the dream me specifically thought: 'I have seen this before in real-life'. However, DL cannot recall ever watching this film with me on his TV, and therefore it seems my dream created a false memory of a real-life event. Additionally, in Dream 514 - 'Rap Battles Gone Wrong', I had seen a poster advertising a gig by an American hip hop artist. However, when in a real-life waking conversation with DL, I had to ask him if this was a dream memory or an actual real-life waking memory. DL was able to confirm that this was something which could only have happened in my dream as this hip hop artist was not currently doing a tour. DL also reminded me that I had not recently travelled outside of my home city, which only had 2 large live music venues, one being on my university campus, the other being a university-owned venue in the city. Therefore, if there had been a real gig taking place, the posters advertising it would have actually been on campus - and clearly there were none, a fact which was easily checked. I have had a number of dreams where my waking memory and dream memory becomes confused and I have to ask people if an event or conversation actually happened. Sometimes, I become aware by myself the dream created a false memory which I had accepted as being a real-life memory until evidence proved otherwise or I applied a logical analysis to the 'memory' which revealed it to be false. Another example is the brief scene in a dream where I cut the bottom of my hair and I believed this happened in real-life, until I realised it was impossible, as the dream scene had taken place in my Nan's home, and I had not visited her for some months, not cut my hair recently (because I then realised I did not actually own the hairdressing scissors which I had used in the dream). I only started to question the validity of the memory of cutting my hair, when I noticed I still had 'split ends', my hair was no shorter indicating any recent cutting; and I possessed no decent scissors to cut it with in real-life, despite having some in the earlier dream. 

Regular readers of this Blog will be aware of my recurrent 'Dream Town' which is basically a town which only seems to exist in my dreams, but which creates a strong sense of 'remembering it' (familiarity or previous experience)or déjà vu - the phenomenon in which the individual experiences of having 'seen it before'. It creates a strong sensation of having already experienced something, when in fact we are in a new situation. Some people see dream déjà vu as a form of precognition when they experience a real-life event which they have seen before in a dream. However, my dream town does not fall into this category, because the déjà vu feeling happened in a dream - and I was therefore trying to search my memory for a past real-life visit to such a place to explain why the town felt so familiar in my dream. 

I have even conducted some dream incubation experiments to try to return to the town to ask my subconscious questions about this matter. I do not believe I have ever really visited this location, or that it in fact exists in reality. In a number of dreams where I have been either non-lucid or even lucid, I have noted facts about the town and conducted some investigation. I have tried to locate the town on a London underground tube map, as the town feels like a location in the London suburbs. I had the name 'Sudsbury' in my mind in this dream. There are locations in the UK, such as 'Sudbury', but after Googling this location I am persuaded it is (a) a place I have never visited in my life; (b) nothing like the dream town in appearance, size etc. 

The dream town is quite urban in areas (there is a train bridge and tal commercial looking buildings which give this impression). There are a lot of mock-Tudor buildings and areas of green grass and trees. Near the area with the Tudor buildings is a doctor's surgery. I have visited this surgery in a dream. I know I have never visited a doctor's surgery in any location outside my places of residence, in real-life, and none of them resembled the locations in this dream. There is also a traditional pub and a hotel. The hotel is large, and looks out onto a patchwork of countryside fields. I have also been in another location where there were fields - and a hill. At the top of the hill was a large shop selling only freezer-foods, from huge chest freezers. I have walked by the canal. My interpretation of the dream town is that my dream has created a location which is a composite of lots of other locations I have experienced in my life. I may have repressed or simply forgotten the exact real-life experiences where I saw say, a canal like the one in my dream town; a freezer shop; Tudor-style architecture etc and then re-configured them, as one location in my dream, based on traces of memories from waking events. This is why the town has such a sense of familiarity - and I may be more likely to 'visit' this town, or interpret a random dream scene location as being part of the 'map' of this 'town' (given some of the locations attributed to the dream town are diverse and perhaps not likely to all be part of the same UK city/town) because I focus on my desire to do so, to better understand the experience. My subconscious is doing precisely what I want - revisiting a situation I keep questioning 'it' (through dreamwork) about - a form of Freudian 'wish fulfilment' perhaps? In this sense, I enjoy the false or distorted memories I have created in both my subconscious and conscious (because I am aware they are false memories) mind, because I am able to experience a different reality to my own, in the safe hyper-reality of my 'dreamverse' - it is the relatively banal living of a fantasy version of reality. 

These personal examples are fairly innocuous demonstrations of how dreams might create false or distorted memories, which are confused or misinterpreted as real-life events, but it also highlights how, under different circumstances, it can be highly dangerous to rely on dreams as a projection or reflection of reality or to trust all of our memories as fact, without evidence to suggest events did take place, particularly if the memories refer to the harmful actions of others. I have had dreams where family members have been projected as 'abusers' or perverse and evil in some way, with myself and my cousins regressed in age to childhood, and back in the family home. These dreams were vividly recalled and extremely easy to understand in terms of the narrative of the dream (they were not fragmented or abstract dreams). 

However, I know them to be imagined events and feelings, not ones based in my lived reality. I can either identify day residue which influenced me dreaming that particular dream with that narrative, those events and those dream characters from my real-life; and further, I have the opportunity to ascertain facts from my family (given the persons identified in the dreams are no longer residing in the family home, so there would be no divided loyalties or need to protect anyone from the truth). I have felt no need to do the latter; I trust my memory and lived experience and also fully understand the power of dreams - and the fact that we don't fully understand why we dream in the ways we do, and cannot trust our dreams to reflect real-life, even if they are clearly aroused and influenced by it. I have also experienced an abusive sexual incident in my own life, as a teenager and therefore have been able to trace any dream references to sexual abuse as a theme to this remembered actual experience than to interpret them as having to have happened in my early childhood, and then being repressed into my subconscious.

Another issue which may complicate the issue of dreams and memories further, is that some scientists view dreams as having a memory processing function. But in order for the dream to do it's work, we need not actually remember it's narrative or content. In fact, many theories of dreaming suggest our brains are not designed to remember all of our dreams, on a simple level, because it simply does not have the memory capacity, and dream memories are completely expendable, freeing up memory space for more important memories which aid our functioning as humans. Therefore, if we remember our dreams, and the dreams we have also contain other material from our memories - such as locations, people, objects, events, emotions etc, our waking brain might have some difficulty in sorting through which memories were created by the dream and which relate to an actual waking life experience which really happened. 

Considering I have personal experience of also having false waking memories being presented to me as real memories which supposedly relate to a real event, within a dream itself - so in effect my dream is telling me: 'this dream action is the same as something which really happened to you in the past', it is possible to see how we might become confused as to whether our memory is accurate or distorted. If DL had said to me - when I told him about Dream 585- 'I've Seen this Before': 'Yes, it's possible we watched that eyeball scene when you were at my house one time', I would definitely have interpreted my 'dream memory' as having related to a real-life event. This would be in the absence of any intention on the part of DL to implant a false memory, or suggest something to me - it would be an innocent remark, whether right or wrong, which would validate my own memory. The same could be said of Dream 514 - 'Rap Battles Gone Wrong' - if DL said: 'Yes, I hear that artist is doing a UK tour' (without adducing any corroborative evidence to support his statement was in any way true), I would have accepted my memory may have related to a real-life event i.e. seeing the poster advertising the gig. I am constantly astounded by how complex our dreams really are, and how malleable dream and real memories are when they become intertwined. 

I am aware that I am fortunate that I have (a) coped with the issues of sexual violence in my own life to the extent that I can also deal with this theme occurring in my dreams; and (b) coped with mental health problems without encountering a therapist who has used unorthodox means to treat me. Some of the case studies I have cited in this article involve persons who have really suffered as a result of therapists and experts relying on the strength of false, implanted or distorted memories, resulting in the breakdown of relationships and additional trauma and emotional distress being given to the patient/client. This should be borne in mind when you read the following section of this article in particular.

Sexual Abuse, Incest & Satanic Ritual
It is as unlikely that all recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse are false, as much as the notion that they are all true – caution must be taken before a conclusion is drawn either way and all disclosures should be investigated fully and fairly, regardless of how they came to be made, or what triggered the person claiming abuse to make a disclosure. What is understood scientifically about memory makes it especially problematic to sort out true from distorted or false recollections.

However, some consideration should be given to the fact that certain brain processes are necessary for any memories to occur, and thus, memories of extremely early infant abuse (so, for example, before the age of 3 years, a period which is usually forgotten due to natural 'childhood amnesia'); or of abuse that took place while one was unconscious are unlikely to be accurate. 

Memories that have been directed by dreams or hypnosis are notoriously unreliable, because dreams are not ordinarily direct playbacks of experience, but involve distortions or confabulations. Furthermore, the data of dreams is generally ambiguous. Hypnosis and other techniques that work upon a person’s suggestibility must be used with great caution lest one create memories by suggestion rather than unlocking and retrieving them by careful questioning. 

Furthermore, memories are often mixed; some parts are accurate and some are not. Separating the two can be especially troublesome, especially when such memories (such as that of childhood abuse) will have grave consequences – such as the breakdown of a family or criminal proceedings being taken against someone identified as a perpetrator in a dream. 

While it would be highly unconscionable and immoral to ignore accusations of abuse, or discredit them as 'false' because they surfaced in a dream, it is also unethical to act upon such memories as if they are accurate without any supporting evidence or attempt by a therapist to separate the real from the imagined or delusional. Children are especially vulnerable to suggestion and the influence of adults, and even adult memories may be pliable and subject to the suggestible nature of therapeutic intervention, or for example, media coverage of an event.

I watched a documentary entitled Child of Rage: A Story of Abuse (1990) which featured a child, 'Beth' who was adopted as an infant, along with her baby brother. It later emerged that Beth had suffered from sexual abuse at the hands of her biological father, resulting in developing reactive attachment disorder. This manifested (in Beth's case) in inappropriate sexual behaviour (daily public masturbation and molestation of her younger brother); extreme violence towards her family and pets (she killed a number of baby birds and harmed dogs and cats); and a lack of any kind of moral conscience. While the fact of the abuse taking place is not in any way disputed, it was interesting to note that during a therapy session, Beth was able to vividly recount a nightmare which contained flashbacks to the abuse which happened to her when she was 1 year old. It is interesting to note, that Beth's adoptive mother, Nancy, was an advocate of the highly controversial 'attachment therapy', which is used to treat traumatised individuals abused in childhood. It is not regarded as a mainstream psychological technique, and has been labelled as dangerous pseudoscience, by some critics - particularly as it endorses coercion, aversion and restraint (some of these methods are used as a form of punishment). Children are made to regress back to early infancy, in order to be 'rebirthed'. In one notable case, the asphyxiation (during the 'rebirthing' process) of an abuse victim, Candace Newmaker led to her death and criminal proceedings being brought against the therapist Connell Watkins.

Loftus in Remembering Dangerously (1995) states that in an age where we are more knowledgeable about the extent and seriousness of child abuse, some accused individuals are being imprisoned on the 'evidence' provided by memories that come back in dreams and flashbacks - memories that did not exist until a person was admitted into therapy and was asked point-blank: 'were you ever sexually abused as a child?' If the individual believes they might have been abused, the process of excavating the 'repressed' memories through invasive therapeutic techniques, such as age regression, guided visualization, trance writing, dream work, body work, and hypnosis begins, and this can have devastating consequences, not simply because it may lead to a miscarriage of justice and the wrongful accusation of another person, but because it is likely to also encourage the individual to 're-live' the (imagined or suggested) trauma and suffer the adverse effects of believing they have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse. 

Loftus (1995) recounts a case study about false memories of Satanic ritual to illustrate the point. The case was described by expert witnesses (Rogers 1992) and is briefly reviewed by Loftus & Ketcham (1994).

A woman in her mid-70s and her recently deceased husband were accused by their two adult daughters of rape, sodomy, forced oral sex, torture by electric shock, and the ritualistic murder of babies. The older daughter, 48 years old at the time of the lawsuit, testified that she was abused from infancy until age 25 years. The younger daughter alleged abuse from infancy to age 15 years. A granddaughter also claimed that she was abused by her grandmother from infancy to age 8 years.

The memories were recovered when the adult daughters went into therapy in 1987 and 1988. After the breakup of her third marriage, the older daughter started psychotherapy, eventually diagnosing herself as a victim of multiple-personality disorder and satanic ritual abuse. She convinced her sister and her niece to begin therapy and joined in their therapy sessions for the first year. The 2 sisters also attended group therapy with other multiple-personality-disorder patients who claimed to be victims of satanic ritual abuse.

In therapy, the older sister recalled a horrifying incident that occurred when she was 4 or 5 years old. Her mother caught a rabbit, chopped off one of its ears, smeared the blood over her body, and then handed the knife to her, expecting her to kill the animal. When she refused, her mother poured scalding water over her arms. When she was 13 years old and her sister was still in diapers, a group of Satanists demanded that the sisters disembowel a dog with a knife. She remembered being forced to watch as a man (who threatened to divulge the secrets of the Satantic cult) was burned with a torch. Other members of the cult were subjected to electric shocks in rituals that took place in a cave. The cult even made her murder her own newborn baby. When asked for more details about these horrific events, she testified in court that her memory was impaired because she was frequently drugged by the cult members.

The younger sister remembered being molested on a piano bench by her father while his friends watched. She recalled being impregnated by members of the cult at ages 14 and 16 years, and that both pregnancies were ritually aborted. She remembered one incident in the library where she had to eat a jar of pus and another jar of scabs. Her daughter remembered seeing her grandmother in a black robe carrying a candle, being drugged on 2two occasions and forced to ride in a limousine with several prostitutes.

The jury found the accused woman guilty of neglect. It did not find any intent to harm and thus refused to award monetary damages. Attempts to appeal the decision have failed.

There are questions as to the authenticity of these memories. The infancy memories are almost certainly false memories, given the scientific literature on childhood amnesia. Moreover, no evidence in the form of bones or dead bodies was ever produced which might have corroborated the human-sacrifice memories recounted by the women. The question as to where these likely false memories originated from remains. George Ganaway, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, has proposed that unwitting suggestions from therapy play an important role in the development of false Satanic memories in such cases.

Other evidence of how reckless or irresponsible therapeutic methods may cause false memories comes from several cases in which private investigators, posing as patients, have gone undercover into therapists’ offices (Loftus 1993). 

In one case, the pseudopatient visited the therapist complaining about nightmares and trouble sleeping. On the third visit to the therapist, the investigator was told that she was an incest survivor. In another case, Cable News Network (CNN, 1993) sent an undercover employee to the offices of an Ohio psychotherapist (who was supervised by a psychologist), wired with a hidden video camera. The pseudopatient complained of feeling depressed and having recent relationship problems with her husband. In the first session, the therapist diagnosed 'incest survivor', telling the pseudopatient she was a 'classic case'. When the pseudopatient returned for her second session, puzzled about her lack of memory, the therapist told her that her reaction was typical and that she had repressed the memory because the trauma was too horrific for her conscious mind to recall. A third case, based on surreptitious recordings of a therapist from the Southwestern region of the United States, was inspired by the previous efforts.

In the summer of 1993, a woman ('W') had a serious problem. Her older sister, a struggling artist, had a dream which she reported to her therapist, who interpreted it as evidence of a history of sexual abuse. Ultimately the sister confronted the parents in a videotaped session at the therapist’s office. The parents were mortified by the allegations, which were denied and the family was wrenched irreparably apart.

W tried desperately to find out more about the sister’s therapy. On her own initiative, she hired a private investigator to pose as a patient and seek therapy from the sister’s therapist. The private investigator called herself 'Ruth'. She visited the therapist (a counsellor) twice, and secretly tape-recorded both of the sessions.

In the first session, Ruth told the therapist that she had been rear-ended in an auto accident a few months earlier and was having trouble getting over it. Ruth said that she would just sit for weeks and cry for no apparent reason. The therapist seemed totally disinterested in getting any history regarding the accident, but instead wanted to talk about Ruth’s childhood. While discussing her early life, Ruth volunteered a recurring dream that she had had in childhood and said the dream had now returned. In the dream she is 4 or 5 years old and there is a massive white bull after her that catches her and gores her somewhere in the upper thigh area, leaving her covered with blood.

The therapist decided that the stress and sadness that Ruth was currently experiencing was tied to her childhood, since she’d had the same dream as a child. She decided the 'night terrors' were evidence that Ruth was suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). It was decided that they would use guided imagery to find the source of the childhood trauma. Before actually launching this approach, the therapist informed Ruth that she (the therapist), was an incest survivor, stating: 'I was incested by my grandfather'.

During the guided imagery, Ruth was asked to imagine herself as a very young child. She then talked about the trauma of her parents’ divorce and of her father’s remarriage to a younger woman who resembled Ruth herself. The therapist wanted to know if Ruth’s father had had affairs, and she told Ruth that hers had, and that this was a 'generational' thing that came from the grandfathers. The therapist led Ruth through confusing/suggestive/manipulative imagery, involving a man holding down a little girl somewhere in a bedroom. 

The therapist decided that Ruth was suffering from a 'major grief issue' and told her it was sexual, stating: 'I don’t think, with the imagery and his marrying someone who looks like you, that it could be anything else'.

In the second session, when Ruth questioned the idea that she was the victim of childhood sexual abuse, she was told that the dreams of being held down by her father in a bedroom, and the imagery of blood on thighs, gave a clear and persuasive indication of sexual abuse. Even when Ruth expressed doubt, the therapist would not be convinced otherwise. She told Ruth that many people cannot recall early childhood abuse, and the memories had probably been triggered by her car accident. 

The therapist then shared her own experienced of childhood abuse, which had resulted in her adopting destructive behaviours, such as excessive drinking and spending, developing anorexia nervosa and bulimia etc. She then encouraged Ruth to read a book about recovering and healing from childhood sexual abuse, and made reference to the sections on confronting the perpetrator/abuser, which although not suitable for all, may be a very empowering experience. The therapist then recounted her treatment of W's sister, in such detail, that it was possible for Ruth to identify the patient. 

The therapist described how memory may be sometimes inaccurate in terms of ages, times or places. She then told Ruth about a 'new memory' recalled by W's sister, which had emerged while she was laying awake in bed. The memory involved her hands moving uncontrollably fast - faster than would be possible in real-life - and implicated the act of masturbating a male. 

Ruth's mother was then brought into her second session, towards the end. It was suggested to her that she was guilty of neglecting or betraying Ruth. When Ruth again questioned the possibility that her imagination was responsible for the memories, she was told that it would be highly unlikely that she would imagine such a traumatic and negative experience - in the therapist's view, it would be more likely that her imagination would have created a positive or pleasant false memory. She also stated that a therapist friend had indicated that the only proof you require in order to determine if something really happened was that the person thinks that it did. The therapist would not be persuaded away from her abuse-agenda and she brought this interpretation of events into every aspect of her therapy with Ruth - from the way Ruth answered questions, to her approach to dreaming.

Some authors have offered individual case studies as evidence that a stream of traumas can be massively repressed, although such studies may omit to include critical information relevant to the issues. Take for example, the case of Jennifer H, offered by Kandel & Kandel (1994) which describes a corroborated de-repressed memory. 

According to the case study, Jennifer was a 23 year old musician who recovered memories in therapy of her father raping her from the ages of 4 - 17 years. As her memories resurfaced, her panic attacks and other symptoms receded. Her father, a mechanical-engineering professor, denied any abuse took place. Jennifer sued her father, and at trial 'corroborative evidence' was produced: Jennifer’s mother testified that she had seen the father lying on top of Jennifer’s 14 year old sister, and that he had once fondled a babysitter who was in her early teens at the time of the sexual assault. The defendant’s sister recalled him propositioning young girls. However, the account by Kandel & Kandel neglects to include some important facts which are relevant to how we interpret this matter.

Jennifer’s case against her father went to trial in June 1993 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts (Hoult v Hoult, (1993)) and received considerable media attention. From the trial transcript, we learn that Jennifer, the oldest of 4 children, began therapy in the fall of 1984 with an unlicensed New York psychotherapist (for problems with her boyfriend and divided loyalties surrounding her parents’ divorce). 

Over the next year or so, Jennifer reportedly experienced recurring nightmares with violent themes, and waking terrors. Her therapist practiced a Gestalt method of therapy, in which Jennifer was encouraged to visualise events from the past. She claimed: 'I started the same thing of shutting my eyes and just trying to feel the feelings and not let them go away really fast. And [my therapist] just said ‘Can you see anything?’...I couldn’t see anything..and then all of a sudden I saw this carved bedpost from my room when I was a child...And then T saw my father, and I could feel him sitting on the bed next to me, and he was pushing me down, and I was saying, ‘No’. And he started pushing up my nightgown and...was touching me with his hands on my breast, and then between my legs, and then he was touching me with his mouth..and then it just all like went away. It was like...on TV if there is all static...It was, all of a sudden it was plusssssh, all stopped. And then I slowly opened my eyes in the session and I said, ‘I never knew that happened to me'.

Later Jennifer would have flashbacks that were so vivid that she could feel the lumpy blankets of her childhood bed. She remembered her father choking her and raping her in her parents bedroom when she was about 12 or 13 years old. She remembered her father threatening to rape her with a fishing pole in the den when she was about 6 or 7 years old. She remembers her father raping her in the basement when she was in high school. The rape stopped just as her mother called down for them to come to dinner. She remembered her father raping her at her grandparents home when she was in high school, while the large family were cooking and kids were playing. She remembered her father threatening to cut her with a letter opener, holding a kitchen knife to her throat. She remembered him chasing her through the house with knives, trying to kill her, when she was about 13 years old.

Jennifer also remembered a couple of incidents involving her mother. She remembered one time when she was raped in the bathroom and went to her mother wrapped in a towel with blood dripping. She remembered another incident, in which her father was raping her in her parents’ bedroom and her mother came to the door and said: 'David'. The father then stopped raping her and went out to talk to the mother. Jennifer’s mother said she had no recollection of these events, or of any sexual abuse taking place. An expert witness testifying for Jennifer said it is common in cases of incest that mothers ignore the signs of abuse.

Jennifer was involved in years of therapy. During the course of her memory development, Jennifer joined numerous sexual-abuse survivor groups, read books about sexual abuse, wrote letters and newspaper columns on sexual abuse and contacted legislators. In one letter, written to the President of Barnard College on 7 February 1987, Jennifer claimed: 'I am a victim of incestuous abuse by my father and physical abuse by my mother'. 

In another letter to her friend Jane, written in January 1988, she talked about her therapy, stating: 'Well, my memories came out...when I would sit and focus on my feelings which I believe I call visualization exercises because I would try to visualize what I was feeling or be able to bring into my eyes what I could see'. She told Jane about her Gestalt therapy: 'In Gestalt therapy, the sub-personalities are allowed to take over and converse with one another and hopefully resolve their conflicts. Each personality gets a different chair, and when one new one starts to speak, the individual changes into that personality’s seat. It sounds weird, and it is. But is also an amazing journey into one’s self. I’ve come to recognize untold universes within myself. It feels often very much like a cosmic battle when they ate all warring with one another'.

In one letter, written on 11 January 1989, to another rape survivor, Jennifer said that her father had raped her approximately 3,000 times. In another letter, dated 30 January 1989, she wrote: 'Underneath all the tinsel and glitter was my father raping me every 2 days. My mother smiling and pretending not to know what the hell was going on, and probably Dad abusing my siblings as well'. In a letter written on 24 April 1989, to Mother Jones magazine she said that she had survived hundreds of rapes by her father.

Before October 1985, Jennifer testified, she didn’t 'know' that her father had ever put his penis in her vagina, or that he had put his penis in her mouth, or that he put his mouth on her vagina. She paid her therapist $19,329.59 to acquire that knowledge.

In summary, Jennifer reported that she had been molested by her father from the ages of 4 - 17 years of age; that she was molested hundreds if not thousands of times, even if she could not remember all of the incidents; that this sometimes happened with many family members nearby, and with her mother’s 'involvement' in some instances; and that she buried these memories until she was 24 years or age, at which time they purportedly began to return to her. 

These are a few of the key facts that the Kandels left out of their case study. Jennifer was on the stand for nearly 3 days during the trial of her father. She had 'experts' to testify that they believed her memories were real. These experts were apparently unaware of, or unwilling to heed, Yapko’s (1994) warnings about the impossibility (without independent corroboration), of distinguishing reality from invention and his urgings that symptoms by themselves cannot establish the existence of past abuse. At trial, Jennifer’s fathers defence was that the memories were implausible and false. The jury awarded Jennifer $500,000.

Alien Abduction, Demonic Visitation, Hauntings & Sleep Paralysis
The creation of false memories through dreams is not limited to theme of childhood sexual abuse. For example, many 'alien abduction' accounts have been attributed to false memory syndrome and dreaming. Research from Harvard University (Clancy, 2005) has suggested that many memories of alien abduction - or alien visitation - occur during false awakenings and sleep paralysis. This is because, often, sleep paralysis is accompanied by visual or auditory hallucinations, such as flashing lights or buzzing noises. The dreamer may see figures and feel the physical presence of another being in their bedroom. Sleep paralysis occurs when the ordinary separation between wakefulness and sleep goes out of synchronization. It has been described as 'dreaming with your eyes open'. I tend to describe this phenomenon as a 'limbo' between dreams and reality. This experience encourages the dreamer to believe that they are actually awake and really experiencing events, which may include levitation, electric shock, probing or sexual penetration by the alien being. 

Clancy states that 25% of the population experience sleep paralysis, with 5% experiencing hallucinations which appear to suggest alien abduction to the dreamer. The individual who seeks therapy to explain what has happened, may undergo processes such as hypnosis, regression, guided imagery and relaxation, all of which may place them in a suggestible frame of mind, which further validates their memories of what happened and convinces them that this was an actual event, not a simple dream. False awakenings with sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations may also explain accounts of demonic visitation and hauntings by ghosts, as well as the occurrence of other paranormal phenomena which resists alternative explanation. 

There is a wealth of literature on the phenomenon of false memory syndrome and dreaming. This article contains a few notable studies and examples, but entire theses and books have been dedicated to the theme and research into this area continues.

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