City Research Online

Belief in Unconscious Repressed Memory Is Widespread: A Comment on Brewin, Li, Ntarantana, Unsworth, and McNeilis (2019)

Otgaar, H., Wang, J., Howe, M. L. ORCID: 0000-0002-5747-5571 , Lilienfeld, S., Loftus, E., Lynn, S., Merckelbach, H. & Patihis, L. (2020). Belief in Unconscious Repressed Memory Is Widespread: A Comment on Brewin, Li, Ntarantana, Unsworth, and McNeilis (2019). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(10), pp. 1996-2000. doi: 10.1037/xge0000721


What does believing in repressed memory mean? In a recent paper in this journal, Brewin, Li, Ntarantana, Unsworth, and McNeilis (2019; Study 3) argued that when people are asked to indicate their belief in repressed memory, they actually think of deliberate memory suppression
rather than unconscious repressed memory. They further argued that in contrast to belief in unconscious repressed memory, belief in deliberate memory suppression is not scientifically controversial. In this commentary, we show that they are incorrect on both counts. Although Brewin and colleagues surveyed people to indicate their belief in deliberate memory suppression, they neglected to ask their participants whether they (also) believed in unconscious repressed memory. We asked people from the general population whether they believe that traumatic experiences can be unconsciously repressed for many years and then recovered. In two studies of the general population, we found high endorsement rates [Study 1 (N = 230: 59.2% (n = 45); Study 2 (N = 79): 67.1% (n = 53)] of the belief in unconscious repressed memory. These endorsement rates did not statistically differ from endorsement rates to statements on repressed memory and deliberate memory suppression. In contrast to what Brewin et al. argue, belief in unconscious repressed memory among lay people is alive and well. Finally, we contend that Brewin et al. overstated the scientific evidence bearing on deliberate repression (suppression).

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © American Psychological Association, 2019. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at: 10.1017/S0022050719000780
Publisher Keywords: Repressed Memory; Unconscious; Conscious; Memory Suppression
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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