130109McNallyJan. 9, 2013

“One question that arises from studies on children’s suggestibility is whether they document false memories or merely false reports. Do children really believe that the fictional events happened? Or do they merely say so to please the interviewers?

“Consistent with the false memory interpretation, approximately one-third of the children in these studies continued to insist that particular events had really happened to them even after they were told those events were not real….

“Lacking any obvious motivation to lie, these children appeared to have developed false memories, perhaps confusing the products of their repeated attempts to visualize the events with the products of direct experience….

“Professionals were no better than chance at discriminating false from true reports. The credibility of a child’s account was related to the amount of perceptual detail mentioned in the child’s narrative. The more details, the more professional tended to believe the narrative, regardless of whether it was true.”

– From “Remembering Trauma” by Richard J. McNally (2003)

To better understand how the Little Rascals therapists went so wildly astray, give that last paragraph a second reading. “Professionals were no better than chance at discriminating false from true reports” – and they were mesmerized by the “perceptual detail” in those tales of sharks and spaceships.