BACKGROUND We reviewed evidence from prospective studies to test whether individuals can develop amnesia for traumatic experiences, a process variously termed 'repression', 'dissociative amnesia' or 'psychogenic amnesia'.
METHOD Using specified criteria, we selected and analysed studies which prospectively assessed memory in victims of documented traumatic experiences.
RESULTS In studies in which people were asked directly about a past traumatic experience, they consistently reported memories. Non-reporting occurred only in studies where subjects were not asked directly about the experience. This latter design leaves open the well-documented possibility that subjects simply did not disclose events that they actually remembered. Some prospective studies were also limited by incomplete documentation of trauma and failure to rule out other more ordinary causes of amnesia.
CONCLUSIONS Prospective data as yet fail to demonstrate that individuals can develop dissociative amnesia for traumatic events.