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Evidence of dissociative amnesia in science and literature: culture-bound approaches to trauma in Pope, Poliakoff, Parker, Boynes, and Hudson (2007).

  • Goldsmith, Rachel E
  • Cheit, Ross E
  • Wood, Mary E
Published Article
Journal of trauma & dissociation : the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD)
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2009
DOI: 10.1080/15299730902956572
PMID: 19585333


The current culture of traumatic stress studies includes research that identifies the ways in which stress and trauma impair learning and memory in both humans and animals. Yet it also contains health professionals who argue that individuals cannot forget traumatic events. Many accounts present differences among these positions as a legitimate debate despite the substantial forensic, survey, and neurological evidence that both demonstrates the capacity for people to exhibit impaired memory for trauma and highlights specific mechanisms. In a recent article, H. G. Pope, M. B. Poliakoff, M. P. Parker, M. Boynes, and J. I. Hudson (2007) hypothesized that if individuals could forget trauma, the phenomenon would appear in world literature prior to 1800. They conducted a contest to generate submissions of examples and determined that dissociative amnesia is a culture-bound syndrome. Their report fails to provide a thorough account of all submissions and the process through which they were all rejected, offers highly questionable literary analyses, and includes several misrepresentations of the state of the science regarding memory for trauma. This response addresses methodological problems with the contest, explores examples of forgetting trauma from literature written before 1800, examines social and historical aspects of the issue, and summarizes the extensive cognitive and neurological data that Pope et al. did not consider. The present article conceptualizes the premise of the contest and the authors' conclusion as symptomatic of a culture affected by biases that include the denial of trauma and its effects.

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