Effects of prior knowledge and expert statement on belief in recovered memories: An international perspective

Israel Nachson, J. Don Read, Sheila M. Seelau, Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Brenda Lobb, Graham Davies, Joseph Glicksohn, Michal Lifschitz, Elizabeth Brimacombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

We tested the hypothesis that beliefs in the purported attributes of recovered memories of child sexual abuse (CSA) are associated with knowledge of the "recovered/false memory debate", and that such beliefs will be related to assessments of the credibility of statements made by participants in a vignette about CSA. Participants from five countries (the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Israel) responded to a questionnaire regarding beliefs about recovered memory as well as self-reported exposure to and knowledge of the debate. In addition, they assessed the credibility of statements made by a daughter (reporting recovery of memories of sexual abuse by her father), her father (denying the allegation and accusing the daughter's therapist of implanting in her false "memories" of abuse), and two experts (each supporting one of the two protagonists). We found that prior knowledge of the debate across countries was linked to beliefs in specific attributes of recovered memories and to a subset of the credibility assessments of statements made by the protagonists and their experts. For individuals, however, credibility assessments were unrelated to knowledge of the debate, but they were related to beliefs about memory recovery. Finally, credibility of the protagonists' statements was differentially associated with those made by the daughter's and the father's experts. The results suggest that whereas familiarity with the debate does not affect the credibility of the statements made by the complainant and the accused, expert testimony does, as has been found in prior research. The psycholegal implications of this conclusion are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-236
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Volume30
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are indebted to support from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to the second author. They also thank Stephen Lindsay for his valuable help in the design of the study.

Keywords

  • Belief
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Expert
  • Knowledge
  • Recovered memories

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