Linking EWT and multiple personality disorder

What is the link? When considering the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, a key explanation is the malleability of memory – for example leading questions may alter what is remembered. The same explanation can also be applied to multiple personality disorder (more recently called ‘dissociative identity disorder’, DID). The experience of multiple personalities may be explained in terms of the creation of false memories.

In a recent article on the myth of DID, Rosie Waterhouse voices her concern that diagnoses of DID remain acceptable in the UK but have been almost abandoned in the US. Part of the reason for its abandonment is because of a number of successful malpractice suits. In one case a jury awarded $10.6 million to a patient who had been encouraged to believe he had 300 personalities.

But probably a more important factor in the decline of DID diagnoses is the research by Elizabeth Loftus and others on false memories. People who are prone to fantasise can be fairly easily convinced that their experiences are explained in terms of a variety of different personalities. The article by Waterhouse focuses on one ex-DID patient (‘Carol’) who recognised that her diagnosis was wrong while watching Sesame Street. She watched the puppets Grover and Kermit discussing their feelings. ‘Carol’ suddenly realised that all she was experiencing was different emotions, not different personalities.

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One Comment

  1. Keith E Rice October 28, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    Once again really on the cutting edge, Cara….but I’m far from convinced, personally. Especially when the reasons for decline in diagnosis can at least partly be attributable to the ‘sue you’ culture so prevalent in the US. Which is no reason at all, from a true clinical perspective!

    Both the Freudian and Gravesian viewpoints lay out the scenario of conflicting forces in the ‘mind’ which, in the extreme, might possibly lead to a dissociation from certain elements of personality. The DSM-IV (1994) recategorisation of MPD as DIID was, in reality, a big step away from the Thigpen & Cleckley-era view of MPD – the 1994 recategorisation being strongly resisted by a minority/breakaway DSM sub-committee led by Ralph Allison who insisted that MPD and DID were qualitatively-different forms of dissociation.

    Of course, there is real and disturbing evidence of misdiagnosis of MPD and also evidence of being able to create false memories by suggestion – of which Loftus’ research is startling but far from unique. Remember Beth Rutherford?

    That doesn’t necessarily detract from the handful of well-documented cases – eg: Thigpen & Cleckley – where it appears there really could be a genuine MPD.

    Which leaves us…where?

    Possibly that there may be something genuinely equivalent to the Thigpen & Cleckley-type conception of MPD…but clinicians need to be really rigorous in trying to sort it from suggested/false/iatrogenic memories.

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