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Questionable validity of ‘dissociative amnesia’ in trauma victims

Evidence from prospective studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Harrison G. Pope Jr
Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
James I. Hudson
Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
J. Alexander Bodkin
Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
Paul Oliva
Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA



We reviewed evidence from prospective studies to test whether individuals can develop amnesia for traumatic experiences, a process variously termed ‘repression’, dissociative amnesia’ or ‘psychogenic amnesia’.


Using specified criteria, we selected and analysed studies which prospectively assessed memory in victims of documented traumatic experiences.


In studies in which people were asked directly about a past traumatic experience, they consistently reported memories. Non-reporting occurred only in studies where subjects were not asked directly about the experience. This latter design leaves open the well-documented possibility that subjects simply did not disclose events that they actually remembered. Some prospective studies were also limited by incomplete documentation of trauma and failure to rule out other more ordinary causes of amnesia.


Prospective data as yet fail to demonstrate that individuals can develop dissociative amnesia for traumatic events.

Review Articles
Copyright © 1998 The Royal College of Psychiatrists 

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See Commentary, pp. 216–217 this issue.


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