Repressed Memories

I teach Consumer Behavior and try my best to keep politics out of my classroom.  I always despised teachers who took advantage of their position to shove their ideology down the throats of a captive audience and never want to do the same.  However, circumstances caused one of my lectures to address the most recent political controversy.  Fortunately, I gave the lecture one week before Dr. Ford became part of public culture.

I was teaching how we remember things.  First of all, our memories are very malleable.  See this short and fun video from Brain Games at  The video was based on research by memory specialists such as Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.  She is a true research hero, and someone I strongly admire (we have never met).

In the latter half of last century, repression therapy based on the ideas of Freud and Bruer became popular again.  (My understanding is that Dr. Ford’s treatment included this type of therapy).  People were being arrested, tried, and jailed on the basis of these repressed memories that were brought to life by psychotherapists decades after the alleged events took place.  This did not make sense to Dr. Loftus.  According to her “Totally forgetting that you witnessed something that traumatic, and then suddenly recalling it whole decades after the fact?  Burying every detail and then having it float flashbulb into your mind, every inch intact, I don’t think so.”

She then came up with some experiments that showed she could implant false memories into the minds of 25% of her subjects.  Other researchers, such as Dr. Steve Porter, used similar techniques and discovered that they could convince up to 50% of their subjects that they had been the victim of a traumatic event long ago even though the trauma never really happened.

After proving that human memory is very fallible and that she could implant false memories, Loftus then studied the concept of repression.  Not only did she not find any empirical evidence that people can undergo trauma and immediately forget it, but she found evidence that the opposite was true.  “Most trauma survivors obsessively remember what happened to them.

Other modern researchers, such as Dr. Rofe (2008) have come to similar conclusions as Dr. Loftus.  “Contrary to psychoanalysis, most studies show that people remember their traumatic experiences and that rare cases of amnesia can be attributed to factors other than Freudian repression.

Thus, it is entirely possible that Dr. Ford told the truth as she remembered it despite the lack of collaborating evidence.  However, the work of researchers from Professors Loftus, Porter, and Rofe would suggest that the reason why Dr. Ford did not remember this event before she went to repression therapy is that the repression therapy itself caused false memories to be implanted.

If you would like more details on the problems with repression therapy, I encourage you to listen to Dr. Loftus herself at

Interesting Week in Research

Several researchers published some interesting findings last week.  Many of these had concrete recommendations for particular situations.  First, if you are a chronic worrier, you can reduce the negative effects of worrying by writing down all your worries (or making a list).  Second, if you are depressed, there is a simple non-pharmaceutical treatment (sleep deprivation) that is effective for almost half of all depressed patients.  Third, if you live in a state where marijuana is legal, you can expect to see more violent outbreaks as researchers learned that marijuana serves as a trigger for individuals at high risk of developing a psychotic disorder.  In other words, if someone has the potential for certain types of mental problems, marijuana is likely to make them paranoid.  So marijuana may trigger paranoid behavior or worse in up to 25% of the population.  Finally, if you are ever the victim of a gunshot or stabbing (perhaps from being attacked by a paranoid junkie), don’t wait for an ambulance, but find a faster way to the ER.  It can make a big difference:  “When adjusting for differences in injury severity, patients with penetrating injuries were 62 percent less likely to die when transported by private vehicle compared to EMS.”

Momentary Ego Boost

Usually our students let us know if our lectures are going long.  A few of them even start packing their stuff up in the last minute or two of class.  Today, I looked up at the clock and realized I had gone five minutes late and everyone was still paying attention.  I was impressed with their patience and also felt good that I had kept them interested in the material despite running late.  I quickly told them I was about done and finished up eight minutes late, giving my poor students only two minutes to make it to their next class.

As I was shutting down the computer, I noticed it was only 9:45 AM, opposed to the 9:58 AM displayed by the the clock on the rear wall.  One of our students had obviously adjusted the clock to ensure class was dismissed on time.  I’m not sure if it was aimed at me or someone earlier (I will keep him anonymous, but the person who teaches before me often runs late).  At any rate, I thought this was a great example of problem solving by one of our students.  And I no longer feel proud that the students were paying close attention despite the class running late…

Governor’s Race: Poll and Comments

Quinnipiac University polled 989 Virginian voters from February 10-15 about this year’s race for governor.  The poll slightly skewed Democratic (46.7% of the respondents said they were Democrats or leaned Democratic, 42.4% said they were Republicans or leaned Republican, with 10.9% being independents or other); nevertheless, it provides an early and interesting look at Virginia’s governor’s race.

Based on their results, the race for the Democratic nomination is tied with both Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam each being the first choice of 19% of the Democratic voters.  Northam has a lead amongst the Democrats who consider themselves strongly or somewhat liberal whereas Perriello draws more support from Democrats who consider themselves at least somewhat conservative.  However, with 61% of Democrats being undecided (most because they simply do not know enough about the candidates), this race could get very interesting.  The primary is June 13, 2017, so Perriello and Northam have almost four months to introduce themselves to primary voters.

The Republican race is much different with four contenders.  Despite splitting the vote four ways, Republican leader Ed Gillespie was the first choice of 24% of the Republican voters.  This is significantly more than the other three contenders put together (Corey Stewart was a distant second at 7%, Frank Wager had 5%, and Denver Riggleman had 2%).  However, it is much too early to call the race – while Gillespie has a very large lead, 59% of the Republicans are undecided.

The poll also tested early voter preferences for potential November contests.  I disagree with one of the original researcher’s conclusions.

Although none of the candidates – Democrat or Republican – is very well known to the Virginia electorate, the Old Dominion obviously has a blue tinge at this point,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “The fact that relatively unknown Democrats are scoring better than relatively unknown Republicans indicates that for now at least this Democratic brand is more attractive to Virginia voters.

This is where the slightly Democratic skew of the poll comes into play.  Since Quinipiac polled more Democrats than Republicans (462 were Democrats or leaned left vs. 419 Republicans or leaned right), of course this poll would show that the Democratic options would beat the Republican options.  The results of the head-to-head matches among the independent voters is much more interesting to me as independents will likely decide the outcome of the November election.

Keep in mind these are small numbers, so the margin of errors are relatively large.  However, when only looking at the independent voters, a different picture occurs.  Now, the individual candidate makes a difference.  Among independents, Northam leads Stewart and Riggleman, but both Gillespie and Wagner have an advantage over Northam.  Perriello does better than Northam, leading over three of the Republican candidates in the eyes of independents, but also falls below Gillespie.

This does not look like a “blue tinge” to me.  Instead it seems like this race could go either way, with Gillespie having a small advantage at this point in time.

We Have Great Students

At UMW, we strongly encourage our students to travel abroad at least once as part of their education.  This is an expensive option and challenging to accomplish on a student budget.  However, traveling is very broadening and in an increasingly interconnected world, it is important for tomorrow’s leaders to better understand other cultures.

Several years ago, two of my students asked me which country was my favorite.  Outside of the United States, I love Australia and have had the good fortune to visit it several times.  After I told them about why I loved visiting Australia, they asked me to sponsor a UMW trip there over Winter Break.  I was a bit skeptical if we could get enough students for such an expensive trip (the airfare alone is over $2,000 during this time period – peak summer season in that part of the world), but I agreed.  We ending up recruiting six students and visited Australia over the 2014-15 Winter Break.  The students had such a great time learning about Aussie culture that their word-of-mouth created the demand for the next trip.  We took another trip with 13 students over the 2016-17 Winter Break (a summary about the 2016-2017 trip is available here).

During these trips, I learn so much about our students.  For example, one of our students had never flown before.  She certainly picked a challenging set of first flights!  One of the legs is over 14 hours long.  However, she handled it well and now has the skills to travel internationally on her own.  In addition to learning how organizations market themselves in Australia and New Zealand, we also did some fun activities such as kayaking three miles in the ocean to hike on a island.  After we had finished the first part of the excursion and were exploring the island, one of the students told me another student did not know how to swim.  Think of that – this brave young student was willing to kayak three miles in the ocean despite not knowing how to swim.  Further, she did not complain or even tell her professor it was an issue.  I would have never known if another student had not shared.

I am thrilled that these students had the opportunity to learn from how other cultures and businesses operate.  I am equally impressed with the lessons we can learn from the behavior of our own students.  As the two examples I shared illustrate, our students are willing to bravely try new activities, even when these activities are well outside their experience or comfort zones.  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to help our students have these experiences (and share them) and look forward to taking another group of students Down Under over the 2018-19 Winter Break.

Changing Virginian Demographics

UVA’s demographers have posted a great summary of the changing Virginian demographics.  While still growing, growth has slowed because many Virginians are leaving for other states.  Further, most of the growth continues to be in metropolitan Virginia (Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads) which now make up 93% of Virginia’s entire population.

Read the entire summary at

Interesting View on Politics

An interesting video by the Film Theorists has been posted on YouTube comparing reality TV strategies to this year’s political campaign.  While the video is lighthearted, the analogy is reasonable.  Ever since the invention of television, American presidential elections have been reality TV, even before that phrase was coined.

Love them or hate them, both Trump and Sanders (not covered in the video) have had the simplest messages and clearly defined personas.  While not sufficient for victory in themselves, these characteristics are essential for attracting support and that is why these two have done far better than the pundits predicted.

Number of Illegal Immigrants Continues to Decline

Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal wrote an excellent article (this link doesn’t require a subscription) on the declining numbers of illegal immigrants.  From 2007-2012, Pew Research estimated that the number of illegal immigrants in the US declined 8.2%.  In Arizona, the number dropped by an astounding 40%; clearly showing that illegal immigration can be addressed when desired.

Measuring the overall economic impact of this change on Arizona is difficult because it occurred during the latest economic recession and because the undocumented workers greatly affect the economy for better and for worse.  It is now much more difficult to obtain unskilled workers for farm work and construction, causing these markets to shrink – at least temporarily.  However, American unskilled workers who can find work are seeing raises now that they are not competing with illegal immigrants.  In addition, government spending on health care services and education has also dropped with the outflow of the undocumented workers.  Finally, while farmers have planted smaller crops because of the reduced availability of pickers, the article quotes several farmers who are investing in specialized mechanical harvesters to gather crops.  Once these are working, Arizona’s agricultural economy should equal or exceed its previous level.

This story is important for several reasons.  First, it provides data on what happens when people start enforcing immigration laws.  Keep in mind that this 40% drop took place despite a federal government that largely refused to execute federal immigration laws in Arizona during this period.  If the US government had partnered with Arizona instead of fighting it, the drop would have been much more drastic.  Second, it provides pointers for what to expect for the USA as a whole in the years to come.  In 1970 the fertility rate in the United States was 2.5 kids per woman compared to 6.8 kids per woman in Mexico.  In 2012, it was 1.9 kids per woman in the US compared to 2.3 kids per woman in Mexico.  If trends continue, in another generation Mexico will be trying to convince people to immigrate to Mexico instead of flooding the US with illegal aliens.  Thus, Arizona’s experience may be similar to what the rest of the country will experience in the years to come.

Generational Differences in Retirement Savings

In my Consumer Behavior class, we evaluate differences between how various groups behave, including differences between generations.  One of the findings about baby boomers is that, for all their good traits, as a group they are not very effective at handling their money.  I noticed a story this week that showed that, on average, older boomers had saved less for retirement than members of Generation X.

Of course, there is an alternative reason to this finding besides weaker money management skills.  Older boomers may simply be more confident that the government will pay for their retirement while younger generations have less faith that social security will be around when they need it.