Freuds Famous Theory

Freud’s theory of repression- To what extent do other studies support it?

It was Freud who first proposed the idea of repression- a tendency for memories of traumatic events to be unconsciously placed beyond conscious awareness. This would mean that any memories considered by the individual’s unconscious to be emotionally threatening and a danger to mental stability, were banished to a part of the mind obscure to the individual. However the theory also suggests that whilst these memories are not apparent to the individual, to an extent they continue to have an influence over their behaviour, thoughts and desires. This idea of repression is generally met with agreement from contemporary psychologists .

Support for the theory comes from Williams (1994) who found that an high proportion of women with a record of sexual abuse in childhood, and no recollections of the abuse 20 years after its occurrence. 16% even claimed to have initially forgotten, but then recovered’ the repressed memories at a later stage. This assumption of recovery is supported by Karon and Widdener’s (1997) study. They found that some veterans of World War II who had experienced trauma, had repressed these stressing memories and this had lead to mental illnesses, disorders only to be later relieved once the initial memories had been recovered. However with regard to these conclusions, there exists, somewhat refuting research from Holmes (1990) Following a case study on 60 years worth of experimental tests on repression, he suggested that instead of memories being fully represented in the individual’s behaviour etc., they were in fact mentally relived in anguish by the victim’ However another study that to a degree refutes this suggestion is Bradley and Baddeley (1990) who found that participants had a poor recall for their previous given responses to emotionally charged words such as anger/hate/fear etc., but this recall improved over time. This would in fact suggest that anxiety or emotional arousal will initially lead to repression but this will disappear gradually over time. Repression has been shown in a wide variety of studies to be an important characteristic of how our memory functions, and is fully mentionable in any given explanation of forgetting.