Brains are delicate things…
The Altering of Reported Experiences
Daniel Offer, Marjorie Kaiz, Kenneth Howard, Emily Bennett
Objectives: The unreliability of human memory is well documented in the literature, yet psychiatrists and other mental health care professionals rely on patient self-report in history taking. This study provides new evidence from a longitudinal study of autobiographical memory and discusses implications for the development and implementation of appropriate treatment plans and goals. Method: Seventy-three mentally healthy 14-year old males were studied in 1962. Sixty-seven of these subjects were reinterviewed face-to-face at age 48. Questions concerning areas of family relationships, home environment, dating, sexuality, religion, parental discipline, and general activities were asked in both interviews. Results: Significant differences were found between adult memories of adolescence and what was actually reported during adolescence. Accurate memory was generally no better than expected by chance. Conclusions: If the accurate memory of one’s past is not better than chance in the mentally healthy individual, even more care probably should be taken in obtaining accurate historical information in the medically, psychologically, or otherwise health-compromised individual. It would be more constructive to treat recollections as existential reconstructions.
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2000, 39 (6) 735-742.