Teaching psychology students to change (or correct) controversial beliefs about memory works

Melanie Sauerland*, Henry Otgaar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Therapists, judges, law enforcement, and students often believe in the existence of automatic and unconscious repression. Such a belief can be perilous as it might lead therapists to suggestively search for repressed memories leading to false memories. Recovering therapy-induced false memories of criminal acts can have serious consequences. Here, we tested whether erroneous beliefs in repressed memories can be corrected. Surveying two cohorts of Forensic and Legal Psychology Master’s students, we examined whether education about the science of (eyewitness) memory can correct erroneous beliefs in repressed memories. Students assessed memory statements before taking a course on eyewitness memory, six weeks after the course exam, and 18 or 6 months later, respectively (Ns = 33-74 per cohort and measurement). As expected, students in both cohorts on average initially strongly agreed with the statement that memories of traumatic events can be unconsciously blocked, but strongly disagreed with the statement after the course. Belief-corrections also persisted after the longer delay. These findings show that educating people about the science of (eyewitness) memory can be effective in correcting false and controversial memory beliefs in general and the existence of repressed memories in specific.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-762
Number of pages10
Issue number6
Early online date2 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2022


  • Repressed memory
  • automatic
  • unconscious repression
  • false memory
  • trauma
  • memory wars

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