Saturday, January 16, 2021

Many therapists search online for information about patients; meanwhile, while they believe their patients search for them, they find it difficult to raise the topic directly in therapy

Secret powers: Acts of Googling in the therapeutic relationship. Leora Trub  Danielle Magaldi. Journal of Clinical Psychology, January 15 2021.

Rolf Degen's take:


Objective: The ease of online searching has diminished people's expectations of privacy and the ability to control access to information about oneself, which can alter basic assumptions about the therapy relationship.

Method: This grounded theory study explored psychotherapists’ experiences of searching online for patients and being searched for by patients, among 28 clinicians of primarily psychodynamic orientation.

Results: Many therapists search online for information about patients, but often minimize or rationalize this action and do not share it with their patients. Meanwhile, while they believe their patients search for them, they find it difficult to raise the topic directly in therapy. Thus, when it comes to online searching and discovery of information, an air of secrecy pervades the therapeutic relationship.

Conclusions: Despite the serious implications that the pervasiveness of online searching has for the treatment relationship, therapists lack sufficient support for exploring their motivations, curiosities, and urges surrounding this action.

Youth who perceive themselves as more attractive engage in more—not less—offending; depression, which is treated as a form of negative affect, does not appear to mediate this relationship

Self-Perceptions of Attractiveness and Offending During Adolescence. Thomas J. Mowen et al. Crime & Delinquency, January 12, 2021.

Abstract: Despite a well-established body of research demonstrating that others’ evaluations of a person’s physical attractiveness carry significant meaning, researchers have largely ignored how self-perceptions of physical attractiveness relate to offending behaviors. Applying general strain theory and using eight waves of panel data from the Adolescent Academic Context Study, we explore how self-perceptions of attractiveness relate to offending as youth progress through school. Results demonstrate that youth who perceive themselves as more attractive engage in more—not less—offending. Depression, which is treated as a form of negative affect, does not appear to mediate this relationship. We conclude by raising attention to the possibility that being “good-looking” may actually be a key risk factor for crime.

Keywords: general strain theory, attractiveness, crime, deviance

Through different administrations, liberals are shown more likely than self-identified conservatives to avoid interactions with and exposure to ideological disagreement; liberals are largely ideologically consistent

Ideological Bubbles and Two Types of Conservatives. Deborah J Schildkraut, Jeffrey M Berry, James M Glaser. Public Opinion Quarterly, nfaa027, January 11 2021,

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: For several years, and through different administrations, surveys have shown that self-identified liberals are more likely than self-identified conservatives to avoid interactions with and exposure to ideological disagreement. In this study, we demonstrate that this ideological asymmetry in outgroup avoidance can be partially explained by the well-established tendency of self-identified conservatives to hold moderate or liberal policy preferences. Using a nationally representative survey, we show that ideologically consistent conservatives look more like liberals (almost all of whom are ideologically consistent) in their tendency to engage in behaviors that promote ideologically homogeneous social networks. Inconsistent conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to have ideologically heterogeneous social networks, making them less likely to clash with those on the other side and thus less likely to retreat from engagement, even if they hold conservative identities. This set of findings offers insight into the contours of polarization in contemporary America.

Calado et al. (2020)'s study not only showed that repeated events can be implanted, it raised doubts about the idea that repeated events might be harder to implant than single events

What science tells us about false and repressed memories. Henry Otgaar ORCID Icon,Mark L. Howe & Lawrence Patihis. Memory, Jan 12 2021.

Abstract: What does science tell us about memory phenomena such as false and repressed memories? This issue is highly pressing as incorrect knowledge about these memory phenomena might contribute to egregious effects in the courtroom such as false accusations of abuse. In the current article, we provide a succinct review of the scientific nature of false and repressed memories. We demonstrate that research has shown that about 30% of tested subjects formed false memories of autobiographical experiences. Furthermore, this empirical work has also revealed that such false memories can even be implanted for negative events and events that allegedly occurred repeatedly. Concerning the controversial topic of repressed memories, we show that plausible alternative explanations exist for why people claim to have forgotten traumatic experiences; explanations that do not require special memory mechanisms such as the unconscious blockage of traumatic memories. Finally, we demonstrate that people continue to believe that unconscious repression of traumatic incidents can exist. Disseminating scientifically articulated knowledge on the functioning of memory to contexts such as the courtroom is necessary as to prevent the occurrence of false accusations and miscarriages of justice.

KEYWORDS: Repressionrepressed memoryfalse memorymemorytrauma

The scientific nature of false and repressed memories

The issue of how traumatic experiences are remembered is one of the most contested areas in psychology. An especially controversial aspect of this is the topic of repressed memories. Repressed memory is the idea that traumatic experiences – such as sexual abuse – can be unconsciously blocked for many years such that the individual does not know they were abused, and later recovered in pristine form. The issue of repressed memories has become especially pervasive during the so-called “memory wars”; the ongoing debate between those (often memory scholars) asserting that there is no credible scientific evidence that repressed memories exist and others (often clinicians) claiming that repressed memories do exist. Many scholars have assumed that this debate has been settled, but there is evidence that this debate is far from over (Otgaar et al., 2019).

An important element of the debate concerned situations in which people went to therapy and recovered memories of abuse unknown to them before the therapy started. According to many clinicians, the reason for patients being unaware of an abusive experience was that the memories for that abuse were repressed and that therapy helped recover those memories. However, memory researchers contended that such therapeutic interventions might be inherently suggestive and lead to the creation of false memories of abuse (e.g., Loftus, 1993). Furthermore, another argument was that claims of repressed memories could often be explained by ordinary forgetting (Clancy & McNally, 2005). That is, it is quite normal that people who have experienced a traumatic event will not remember all details of that experience.

Considerable scientific work has been devoted to understanding how false memories are formed and whether repressed memories exist. However, questions have been raised about the ecological validity of false memory research (Blizard & Shaw, 2019). Furthermore, although controversial, the topic of repressed memory continues to be very alive in academic, clinical, and legal circles (for a review, see Otgaar et al., 2019). In the current article, our intention is to set the records straight and provide a brief review of what science tells us about the phenomenon of false and repressed memories. To accomplish this, we will pose several target questions about these phenomena that have frequently been discussed in the literature.

The science behind false memories

We will start with several key points that have frequently been mentioned in the false memory literature. Specifically, we will discuss several issues such as the prevalence of false memory susceptibility and the ecological validity of false memory implantation experiments.

How susceptible are people to forming false memories?

A pertinent issue in false memory studies is individuals’ susceptibility to creating false memories. Importantly, not one answer can be given to this question as different false memory methods have been constructed over the past several decades. For example, false memory production can result from associative processes within the mind (e.g., Deese/Roediger–McDermott false memory task; Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995) or from external suggestions from others (e.g., misinformation paradigm; false memory implantation; Loftus, 2005). For the current article, we will mainly focus on false memories elicited due to suggestions and misinformation because these are often most relevant to the memory wars debate.

One relevant false memory paradigm is the false memory implantation method (e.g., Loftus & Pickrell, 1995). In this method, participants are told to elaborate on events that are suggested to have truly happened to them, where several of the events actually did happen to them, but one event that did not. Using this procedure, researchers have implanted a wide variety of false events, ranging from being lost in shopping mall (Loftus & Pickrell, 1995), to taking a hot air balloon ride (Otgaar et al., 2013; Wade et al., 2002), to being abducted by a UFO (Otgaar et al., 2009), to bumping into a punch bowl at a wedding (Hyman & Billings, 1998). In general, these studies have shown that such suggestions can lead to false autobiographical memories.

When examining the rates at which participants fall prey to these suggestions, studies have found different percentages ranging between 0% (Pezdek et al., 1997) to 70% (Shaw & Porter, 2015; but see also Wade et al., 2018, who found only 30% with different criteria). Wade and colleagues (2002) were one of the first to find that across false memory implantation experiments, the weighted mean percent of false memories was 30%. In a more recent review, Brewin and Andrews (2017) analysed many false memory implantation studies and found full-blown false memories in only 15% of participants. Brewin and Andrews argued that implanting autobiographical false memories is not easy nor common.

An important limitation of Brewin and Andrew’s review was that they collapsed all false memory implantation studies and based on this, calculated a mean percent. False memory implantation studies have used various scoring methods to measure false memory formation and therefore calculating mean percentages is not the most precise estimate of false memory susceptibility. Therefore, Scoboria and colleagues (2017) applied a new coding system to eight previous false memory implantation studies. They found that overall 30.4% of reports were classified as false memories and this percentage increased to 46.1% when the suggestion included self-relevant information, imagination procedures, and was not accompanied by a photo.

Collectively, what research on false memory implantation has shown is that a non-trivial percentage of participants (around 30%) can be swayed into remembering a false autobiographical event. So, in contrast to what is sometimes argued (Brewin & Andrews, 2017), false memory implantation can quite commonly occur when the right conditions are met such as probing guided imagery (see also Nash et al., 2017; Otgaar et al., 2017). Real world therapy scenarios that repeat suggestions over time may yield even higher percentages than experiments that often involve just one or two suggestions.

How ecological valid are false memory implantation studies?

There have been numerous articles in which researchers have debated the ecological validity of false memory experiments (e.g., Ceci et al., 1998; Pezdek & Lam, 2007; Wade et al., 2007). Here we use the classic definition provided by Bronfenbrenner (1977) who stated that “ecological validity refers to the extent to which the environment experienced by the subjects in a scientific investigation has the properties it is supposed or assumed to have by the investigator” (p. 516).

One aim of false memory implantation work is to say something about false memories of traumatic events (e.g., sexual abuse). An important property of false memories of sexual abuse is that these memories often concern emotionally negative events and that such memories sometimes concern repeated events of abuse. Scholars have argued that false memory implantation studies do not meet these criteria. For example, Blizard and Shaw (2019) postulated that false memory researchers have “not been able to implant memories for repeated events, as is often the case with reported childhood sexual abuse” (p. 15). Similarly, Brewin and Andrews (2017) argued that “a challenge for the future will be to demonstrate that it is possible to implant memories of a repeated event” (p. 20).

Concerning the implantation of negative events, research has shown that it is possible to elicit false memories for negative events. For example, Porter and colleagues (1999) succeeded in making people falsely report remembering being bitten by a vicious dog. Also, Shaw and Porter (2015) falsely suggested to participants that they committed a crime (e.g., theft) which led to some apparent false memories. Furthermore, Otgaar et al. (2008) showed that in children, a negative false event (i.e., being accused of copying) was more easily implanted than a neutral false event (i.e., moving to another classroom), a pattern that has been also detected in other false memory paradigms as well (e.g., Bookbinder & Brainerd, 2016). Apart from these examples, researchers have implanted various other negative events in children and adults such as receiving a rectal enema (Otgaar et al., 2010; Pezdek et al., 1999), a finger getting stuck in a mousetrap (Ceci et al., 1994), and being hospitalised (Hyman et al., 1995). Of course, because of obvious ethical reasons, it is not possible to implant events that are even more stressful and negative. However, negative events that have been implanted share certain similarities with sexual abuse such as that the events can be painful (e.g., rectal enema, mousetrap), shameful (e.g., rectal enema), and emotionally arousing (e.g., hospitalisation).

The issue of whether repeated events can be implanted in memory has recently been addressed by Calado and colleagues (2020). In their experiment, they falsely told adult participants that they lost their cuddling toy several times while control participants were told that they only lost it once. Strikingly, they found that repeated false events were as easily inserted in memory as suggesting that the event happened once. So, this study not only showed that repeated events can be implanted, it raised doubts about the idea that repeated events might be harder to implant than single events.

Taken together, although the negative false events used in false memory implantation are still a far stretch from traumatic events that matter in legal cases (such as sexual abuse), an accumulating body of research has shown that the negative events in research do share some properties with the real life events in question. 

How does memory for the public past differ from memory for the personal past?

The good old days and the bad old days: evidence for a valence-based dissociation between personal and public memory. Sushmita Shrikanth &Karl K. Szpunar. Memory, Jan 6 2021.

Abstract: How does memory for the public past differ from memory for the personal past? Across five experiments (N = 457), we found that memories of the personal past were characterised by a positivity bias, whereas memories of the public past were characterised by a negativity bias. This valence-based dissociation emerged regardless of how far back participants recounted the personal and public past, whether or not participants were asked to think about significant events, how much time participants were given to retrieve relevant personal and public memories, and also generalised across various demographic categories, including gender, age, and political affiliation. Along with recent work demonstrating a similar dissociation in the context of future thinking, our findings suggest that personal and public event cognition fundamentally differ in terms of access to emotionally salient events. Direct comparisons between personal and public event memory should represent a fruitful avenue for research on event cognition.

KEYWORDS: Personal memorypublic memorycollective memoryemotion

Check also We are positively biased about our personal future while at the same time being negatively biased about the future of our country

Shrikanth, S., Szpunar, P. M., & Szpunar, K. K. (2018). Staying positive in a dystopian future: A novel dissociation between personal and collective cognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Apr 2018.