Betrayal trauma theory of dissociative experiences: stroop and directed forgetting findings

T.M. Giesbrecht*, H.L.G.J. Merckelbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


According to betrayal trauma theory; many survivors of childhood sexual abuse learn to compartmentalize (i.e., dissociate) their traumatic experiences from conscious awareness by dividing attention. This theory predicts that those who dissociate extensively should be at an advantage during dual tasks. Using a modified Stroop task in Experiment 1 and a direct forgetting task in Experiment 2, we tried to replicate Freyd and colleagues' finding that high-dissociative people perform better under dual task conditions. However, in Experiment 1 we found that, relative to low-dissociative people, high-dissociative people exhibit a slowing of their Stroop reaction times that is independent of valence and attentional context. In Experiment 2, performance on a directed forgetting task was found to be unrelated to dissociation. Our 2 studies provide no evidence for the betrayal trauma theory nor do they support other theories assuming that dissociation is the manifestation of an automatic defense mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-348
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

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