In instances of parental alienation, one parent sometimes purposely invents incidents of abuse or neglect at the hands of the other parent, and, tragically, the child begins to believe that these events took place. The child will swear up and down that a parent abused him even if prior to the other parent discussing it, he had no such memory.
A significant body of research demonstrates that children are extremely suggestible. The way that they view situations, and even the memories that they have, can be influenced by a variety of factors. The children themselves can believe wholeheartedly that situations happen, even if there is no evidence for this. The work of Elizabeth Loftus shows that false memories can be implanted in children just by having them hear an adult describe a situation that never took place. Later, the children are convinced that this event actually transpired.
There was a huge controversy in the world of psychology in the 1990s when some therapists stated that they could help clients recover repressed memories of abuse. While there is certainly evidence for repression, there is also evidence that false memories can be planted with enough suggestion, so many of these clients were being led to believe that abuse occurred when it did not. The therapists were not malicious; they genuinely felt they were helping clients realize what had happened to them.
Samantha Rodman – How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce p.213
A similar line of reasoning applies to infantile amnesia. The hippocampus is not fully functional in the first two years of life. This suggests that it is not possible for someone to encode episodic memories during this time period. Naturally, this does not imply that these early years are unimportant, or that we have no memory of the first two years of life. It implies only that the memories that we do encode during the very early years will take the form of habits and beliefs (procedural and semantic knowledge) rather than explicit, episodic memories. Infantile knowledge is stored as “bodily memory” and implicit knowledge about how the world works. We therefore have every reason to expect that early experience has a decisive impact on personality development (considering the evidence of “neuronal pruning” and the like).
Mark Solms – The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of the Subjective Experience p.168
A famous case of Claparede’s is often cited in this connection. Claparede concealed a pin in his hand when he greeted the patient, pricking her hand as he shook it. When he next attempted to greet the patient, she withdrew her hand, even though she had no conscious recollection of ever having met Claparede before. The event of the meeting had disappeared from her memory, but its effect remained. This is an example of the dissociation between episodic and procedural memory. When asked why she refused to take Claparede’s hand, the patient explained that “one has the right to withdraw one’s hand” thereby demonstrating the dissociation between episodic and semantic memory. She know what to do (procedural memory), and she recalled relevant abstract facts (semantic memory), but she was unable to bring the appropriate actual experience (episodic memory) back to mind.
Mark Solms – The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of the Subjective Experience p.164