PARAMNESIA

A falsification or distortion of memory; a confusion of fact with fantasy in recalling events.We have all experienced some of the “tricks” that memory can play on us. Sometimes we feel we have witnessed an event when we actually read about it in a newspaper or saw it in a newsreel or on television. Many of our so-called memories of early childhood arise in this fashion. Our elders tell us about our behavior at two or three years of age, and we come to believe that we recall this behavior directly. Experiences of this kind are termed simple paramnesia. Simple paramnesia comes about through a faulty linkage of events. We fuse two or more contents that originally arose at different times or in different contexts. The reasons cannot always be found, but they can sometimes be traced to our emotional reactions. We may feel we have actually witnessed an accident because the newspaper account had a dramatic impact on us or aroused latent fears. Stories of our childhood are usually so pleasant, amusing, or flattering that we adopt them as our own. This is particularly likely to happen if we reinforce them by repeating them to others. In the course of such repetition another form of memory distortion is likely to occur: we unconsciously alter the stories to make them even more entertaining or flattering.The d6j& vu (“already seen”) experience is another common form of paramnesia. This is an illusion of recognition or identification in which a new event is experienced with a strong feeling of familiarity. In visiting a small town for the first time we may suddenly have an odd, mystifying feeling that we have been there before. Here, too, there is a convergence or fusion of experiences, but there are several possible explanations of the way it occurs. First, years before, we may have passed through a town with striking features or general characteristics which the present scene resembles. We might also have seen a photograph or motion picture of a similar town. Second, it is possible that just as we entered the townwe quickly glanced down the street, but only closely inspected the scene sometime later. The sense of familiarity might therefore be due to that momentary glance. Third, Freud has suggested that the deja vu experience sometimes comes about through the actualization of a daydream. Before our arrival we may have attempted to picture how the town would look—and this daydream, or a fragment of it, might have been accurate enough to give us the feeling that we have actually been in the town before.Fourth, the present scene might remind us of a night dream in which we happened to picture a similar town. This might explain the air of mystery that often surrounds these experiences, for they would then be the echo of a dream instead of an actual experience. This explanation is reinforced by the fact that we sometimes wonder whether we dreamed about certain events, or whether they actually happened. Finally, not merely vision but other senses might help to produce the deja vu reaction. In some cases similar sounds, smells, or even tastes might originate or bolster the feeling that we have gone through the experience before.Deji vu experiences have been reported since antiquity. They play an important role in the ancient doctrine of reincarnation, or rebirth after death (“deja vecu,” already lived). The Hindus believed that when we have feelings of familiarity in novel situations, we are actually conjuring up experiences from another life. Plato offered a somewhat similar theory. He believed that our souls have had an opportunity to view basic ideas in a heavenly realm between incarnations, and all knowledge is therefore a “reminiscence” or recollection of these ideas already imprinted on our minds.A related phenomenon is dejii ra- cont6, the illusion of “already told.” When we start to tell a story or describe an incident to a friend, we sometimes have the distinct feeling that we have told him the same thing before.This form of paramnesia is considered especially significant in psychotherapy. When a patient has such a feeling, it probably means that the material was actually close to being verbalized for some time, but was repressed. The therapist pays special attention to such disclosures, since they may provide a clue to the patient’s difficulties.Paramnesia may also come about through the influence of suggestion. If someone insists that we have made a certain statement or performed a certain action, we may begin to doubt our own minds and perhaps end up with a false memory. This problem frequently arises in legal testimony. It is one reason for ruling out leading questions such as “Wasn’t Mr. Smith walking with you at the time?” Any evidence gained from such questions is legally inadmissible. The proper question would be, “Where was Mr. Smith walking at the time?”Many forms of paramnesia occur in psychiatric disorders. The d6ja vu experience is found in schizophrenia, extreme fatigue and intoxication, and in the dreamlike “twilight state” that sometimes occurs in psychomotor epilepsy. In addition, epileptic patients as well as drowning persons may experience the phenomenon of “panoramic memory” in which they feel they are suddenly remembering forgotten stretches of their lives. These patients, as well as schizophrenics, sometimes experience the opposite of deja vu—that is, jamais vu, a false feeling of unfamiliarity in situations which they have actually gone through. Other forms of paramnesia are discussed elsewhere in this volume, particularly confabulation, in which a senile or Korsakoff’s patient fabricates events to fill in memory gaps; and retrospective falsification, in which memories are embroidered with imaginary details to meet unconscious needs. The latter type of falsification occurs in most extreme form among paranoid patients, though, like other kinds of paramnesia, it is frequently found in normal people as well

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "PARAMNESIA," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/paramnesia/ (accessed June 19, 2019).
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