Why do we sometimes struggle to remember? If you’re not sure, you're not alone. There’s been a lack of understanding about memory for a long time – and it’s had dire consequences. That’s because many victims of abuse only recover memories of their trauma years later, and when they do they’re often not believed, or taken seriously – in the justice or health system, or with family and friends. That can stop them getting justice or the right treatment, causing untold harm. The fact sheet on Memory – The Truth of Memory and the Memory of Truth presents the latest research, including references, around memory, traumatic memory and recovered memory. The information in the full fact sheet is also presented in 4 summary fact sheets.
Contrary to what many people think, there’s not just one type of memory. In fact, there are two main types of memory. A summary fact sheet reviews classification around memory, and another helps expand our understanding around memory.
The two main types of memory are implicit and explicit memory. Implicit memory is mainly unconscious and can’t be put into words. It’s the type of memory which helps us ride a bike or drive a car, without actively thinking about it. Or the memory of how we felt during an experience. It’s often experienced in the body, and triggered by something around us, such as a smell, sight or sound, or on an important date, like an anniversary.
The other main type of memory, “explicit” memory is what people normally think of when they think about memory. Explicit memory is conscious. We know about it and we can talk about it. It’s the memory we engage when we recount a story, or when we relay knowledge and facts. Many people think explicit memory is the only type of memory, or that it is more important. That’s simply not correct.
One of the biggest myths is that people can’t forget traumatic events, and remember them later. This is not true and the fact sheet on traumatic memory helps us understand the effects of trauma on memory. Traumatic memory is implicit memory – it cannot be recalled at will and put into words. A person who ‘remembers’ a traumatic memory will often experience it in their body or as a behaviour or action, from the past. Such a memory is triggered out of the blue, appearing as fragments of intense emotions, sensations, movements and behaviours. Memories that are forgotten for a period and then remembered, also known as recovered memories, have often been questioned as to their reliability.
The fact sheet on recovered memory presents research which shows both recovered memory and always remembered memory are equally reliable. It provides vital information for legal and health professionals, as well as the general public. It can help therapists to understand their clients’ struggles, and it can help lawyers, jurors and judges when they interview, cross-examine and make judgements. Most importantly, it can help ensure trauma victims receive the support, justice and compassion they deserve.