Wednesday, 26 September 2018

They Say Sexual Assault, Kavanaugh Says

Sexual Assault

They Say Sexual Assault, Kavanaugh Says It Never Happened: Sifting Truth From Memory

When Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford present their vastly different
recollections to the Senate on Thursday, the standard and reliability of memory itself will
be on trial.

Judge Kavanaugh has emphatically denied allegations from Dr. Blasey that he tried to
rape her once they were teenagers or ever committed sexual abuse against anyone. Dr.
Blasey and another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, have recounted their alleged incidents
with both precise detail and gaping holes.

Could Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers be mistaken about his identity? Could he somehow
have erased the experiences they allege from his memory? Or, even, could all be telling
what they genuinely believe is the truth?

The biology of memory, while still far away from figuring out , helps to elucidate how vastly
different accounts can emerge from a shared experience. Memory, by its nature and necessity, is selective, its details subject to revision and dissipation.

From the dizzying stream of incoming perceptions, the brain stores, or “encodes,” the sights, sounds, sensations, and emotions that it deems important or novel. The quality of preservation may depend not only on the intensity of emotion within the moment an occasion occurs but on the mechanics of how that event is recorded and retrieved — in some cases, decades later.

“Recollection is typically a reconstruction, to some extent — it’s not a videotape that preserves every detail,” said Richard J. McNally, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and therefore the author of “Remembering Trauma.” “The details are often filled in later, or dismissed, and guessing may become a part of the memory.”

For a trauma victim, this encoding combines mortal fear and heart-racing panic with crystalline fragments of detail: the make of the gun, the color of the attacker’s eyes.

The emotion is so strong that the fragments can become untethered from time and place.

They may continue memory whilst other relevant details—the exact date, the conversation just before the attack, who else was within the room — fall out of reach.

“In situations of high arousal, the brain is flooded with hormones that strengthen those
things you’re listening to,” said Daniela Schiller, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “But other details are less accessible.”

Conversely, experts suggest, there are scenarios during which someone could have committed an assault and yet even have almost no memory of it. If an assailant attaches little significance to an assault—for instance, if he doesn’t consider it an assault — his brain may only weakly encode details of the encounter.

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