Belief in unconscious repressed memory is widespread: A comment on Brewin, Li, Ntarantana, Unsworth, and McNeilis (2019)

Henry Otgaar*, Jianqin Wang, Mark L. Howe, Scott O Lilienfeld, Elizabeth F Loftus, Steven Jay Lynn, Harald Merckelbach, Lawrence Patihis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/Letter to the editorAcademicpeer-review


What does believing in repressed memory mean? In a recent article 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 might 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 believed that traumatic experiences can be unconsciously repressed for many years and then recovered. In 2 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. argued, 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). (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1996-2000
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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