Memory & Abuse: The Recovered Memory Controversy

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A Case Study of Richard Ofshe's Analysis of the Paul Ingram Case

Karen A. Olio & William F. Cornell

Abstract The case of Paul Ingram, a man who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his daughters, has received widespread media attention. Richard Ofshe (1992, 1994) set forth a narrative of the case, which included his account of an experiment to test the veracity of Ingram's confessions and concluded that the inadvertent use of hypnosis during Ingram's interrogation resulted in the creation of pseudomemories that convinced Ingram of his guilt. On the basis of an examination of the original source documents, the authors discuss the errors of fact, methodological flaws, and confounding factors in Ofshe's rendering of this case of alleged child abuse. They also cite examples of the extent to which Ofshe's imperfect narrative of this case and pseudoscientific conclusions have been uncritically accepted and repeated in the literature, thus becoming an academic version of an urban legend.

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The delayed recall of traumatic events, particularly those of childhood sexual abuse, has become an intensely debated topic in the clinical, legal, and public arenas. (For a discussion of this history, major works, and nature of this debate, see Pope, 1996, 1997, 1998.) The nature and meaning of traumatic memories, especially those that emerge during the course of psychotherapy, as well as perceptions regarding the frequency and impact of childhood trauma, have been contested. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a lay advocacy group founded in 1992 for individuals who have been accused of sexual abuse, usually by their now adult children, has actively promoted a theory that social contagions (e.g., suggestions of abuse from a psychotherapist) rather than actual occurrences of abuse account for some, perhaps many, of the delayed disclosures of childhood abuse.

Since 1992, numerous anecdotal cases have been reported in an effort to document the existence of such a "false memory syndrome." These cases, and the resulting claims regarding the ease with which traumatic memories of abuse can be implanted, have received highly rhetorical, widespread, often one-sided coverage, especially in the popular media. In a remarkably brief period of time, this blitz of media attention has had a dramatic impact on the public perceptions of the credibility of abuse survivors' accounts, the types of legal cases and strategies which are emerging, and the standard of care and nature of practice of psychotherapy.

One of the more sensational cases to be reported is that of Paul Ingram. The Ingram case, which has been repeatedly described in both the popular media and professional literature, has been called the "the flagship case in the new [recovered memory] controversy" (Nathan & Snedeker, 1995, p. 236). "National notice of the Ingram case–which include a book and a television movie–had focused on the legitimacy of the repressed memory theory" (Shannon, 1996). To some, the Ingram case "represented an archetype, a modern day equivalent of the Salem witch trials" (Herman, 1994, p. 43).

Ingram, a former deputy in the Olympia, Washington, sheriff's office and a devout member of the Church of Living Water, was accused of sexual abuse by each of his two adult daughters. On November 28, 1988, Ingram was first questioned by Sheriff Edwards, Undersheriff Neil McClanahan (at that time, Ingram waived his right to an attorney) and then by the detectives in charge of sex abuse cases in the Thurston County Sheriff's Office in Olympia, Washington (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990).

Ingram was taken into custody, held without bail, and kept in solitary confinement for his own protection as a former law enforcement officer (Ofshe, 1992). He was interrogated on numerous occasions over the next several months by an interrogation team that included both law enforcement officers and, on two occasions, a psychologist hired by the prosecution [footnote #1]  (Ofshe, 1992). In addition, Ingram met several times with his minister (Ofshe, 1992).

On February 2, 1989, several months after Ingram had been taken into custody, Richard Ofshe, a sociologist, was hired as a consultant by the prosecution and joined the interrogation team (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990). During his first day on the case (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990), "Ofshe began to suspect that Paul [Ingram] was not confessing to crimes he had actually committed but was self-inducing a trance and imaging crimes suggested to him. To confirm his suspicion Ofshe conducted an experiment . . ." (Ofshe & Watters, 1994, p. 172), which is described in the next section of this article. As a result of this experiment, Ofshe concluded (1992) that the inadvertent use of hypnosis during Ingram's interrogation (supposedly a result of the relaxation technique used on the second day of interrogation–November 29, 1988–by the interrogation team's psychologist), when coupled with the influence exerted by authority figures, induced false memories of abusing his daughters, convincing Ingram of his guilt.

Despite Ingram's knowledge that Ofshe believed Ingram to be innocent [footnote #2]. Ingram pleaded guilty to six counts of third degree rape in May 1989. Two months later, Ingram reconsidered his confession and with the assistance of a new attorney [footnote #3],   filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

In response, an extensive evidentiary hearing was held on the issue of coercion in the Ingram case by the judge of the superior court, The Honorable Robert Peterson (1990). When the judge reviewed the evidence in the Ingram case, one of his problems in crediting Ofshe's conclusions was that he found the timing and the content of Ofshe's experiment "odd" (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990, p. 911). Judge Peterson (1990) expressed concern that Ofshe had decided to try his experiment with Ingram on the first day that he had joined the Ingram investigation, rather than waiting until all other avenues in Ingram's interrogation had been exhausted. He suggested that if anyone was going to use such a technique, the content that he or she chose to use should be completely foreign from anything that could actually be true in the case being investigated.

Regarding Ofshe's credibility as an expert to evaluate Ingram regarding his alleged abuse of his daughters, it was noted that Ofshe, "identifying himself as a 'social psychologist' or as a sociologist having a specialty in social psychology . . . is not permitted under the laws of the State of Washington to make any diagnosis or perform any therapy or treatment" (Sutherland, 1990, p. 7). Judge Peterson (1990) found Ofshe to be "considerably less qualified . . . to give opinions in this area" (p. 912) than the other expert witnesses, all of whom (including Dr. Lennon [footnote #4], who had been hired by the defense to evaluate Ingram) disagreed with Ofshe's conclusions. Ingram's own "retained psychological expert [Dr. Lennon] indicated that Mr. Ingram was a pedophile" who "was badly in need of treatment" (Gates, 1996, p. 24). Judge Peterson (1990) thought the Ingram investigation was not perfect but did not taint the confession. As a result, the judge refused to set aside Ingram's guilty pleas [footnote #5]. 

Ingram's appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was also denied as the court noted "mere advice or strong urging by third parties to plead guilty . . . does not constitute undue coercion" (Browning, Wright, & Nelson, 1995, p. 4). Having run out of legal appeals, Ingram's case was brought before the Washington State's Clemency and Pardons Board on June 7, 1996 (Shannon, 1996; Zimmerman, 1996). On December 13, 1996, having considered the testimony, the Clemency and Pardons Board (1996a) voted to deny Ingram's petition. He remains in prison.

The accusations by the daughters of sexual abuse against Paul Ingram were not without some degree of corroboration by others. Despite the inconsistencies and fragmentation in stories, his wife Sandy reported instances of sexual abuse. When Ingram's oldest son, Paul Ross, who had left home as a teenager, was interrogated by detectives he stated that "he had no knowledge of the investigation, had not seen anything on TV about it and does not read the newspaper" (Schoening, 1988, p. 2). However, when he was asked by detectives why he thought his father would be in jail he "immediately replied that he would feel it would be because of sex abuse on the girls (sisters)" (Schoening, 1988, pp. 2-3). Paul Ross also "related an incident when he was younger of seeing his mom being raped" (Schoening, 1988, p. 3). He reported memories of his mother, tied to a bed, having sex with men (including his father) (Schoening, 1988). When the detectives began to press him about his possible victimization, Paul Ross requested a break to collect himself. He then disappeared, leaving both his job and home (Schoening, 1988; Wright, 1993b).

At the hearing before the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board (1996b), one of Ingram's other sons, Chad, "who had not accused his father before . . . said his father physically abused him as a child . . . [and] also accused his father of sexually abusing him by . . . forcing him into oral sex" (Shannon, 1996). Chad testified that this abuse occurred from age 4 to age 12 (Zimmerman, 1996). Chad "acknowledged his statements have been inconsistent. He said he had kept silent about his father's actions before out of shame, but he came forward . . . [at the pardon board hearing] because he fears his father will be released" (Shannon, 1996).

Ofshe "flatly dismissed Chad Ingram's claims" (Shannon, 1996), and Shannon, a reporter for the Olympian newspaper, noted Ofshe's view that Ingram's son was back on the scene blaming his personal failures on abuse he long ago denied (Shannon, 1996). Ofshe suggested that Chad was experiencing his life as a disaster and that his disclosures were "a way of not taking personal responsibility" (Zimmerman, 1996). However, Sheriff Edwards (Clemency and Pardons Board, 1996b) noted that during his initial conversation on November 28, 1988, with Ingram when he asked Ingram if the allegations involving his daughters were true, that Ingram "indicated that they were" (p. 13), but "not only was it with his daughters, but that his sons would be needing some help too" (p. 13). Edwards said that "at that point . . . I fully expected him to deny it. Not to say that there were additional victims" (p. 13).

Despite the findings by the various tribunals reviewing the Ingram case, numerous articles–in publications such as American Psychologist (Kassin, 1997; Loftus, 1993), Psychological Science (Kassin & Kiechel, 1996), Applied Cognitive Psychology (Lindsay & Read, 1994), The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (Spanos, Burgess, & Burgess, 1994), Discover (Kandel & Kandel, 1994), The New York Times (Goleman, 1992), Mother Jones (Watters, 1993), The New Yorker (Wright, 1993a, 1993b), and the Seattle Weekly (Robinson, 1993)–and books such as those by Wakefield and Underwager (1994), Nathan and Snedeker (1995), and Loftus and Ketcham (1994) have repeated claims about Ingram's innocence and the supposed creation of pseudomemories in his case.

Loftus (1993), for example, referred to the Ingram case as "one of the most dramatic cases of false memory of abuse ever to be documented" (p. 532). She claimed that examples like the Ingram case "reveal that entire events that never happened can be injected into memory" (p. 533). Lindsay and Read (1994) claimed that Ofshe's experiment with Ingram is "a dramatic example of the acceptance of false information" (p. 290).

Claims about Ingram's supposedly implanted memories have also been incorporated into psychology textbooks. One abnormal psychology textbook includes claims about Ingram's supposedly implanted memories and cites Ofshe's experiment as a "dramatic example of an implanted memory" (Holmes, 1994, p. 31). Another textbook notes that "some studies of real-life incidences have provided evidence that even traumatic pseudomemories can be induced by suggestion (Ofshe, 1992)" (Tavris & Wade, 1995, p. 461).

Meacham (1993) reported that Ingram's confession came out "under hypnosis" (p. 77) and quoted Ofshe's allegation that "Ingram was brainwashed" (p. 77). Kassin and Kiechel (1996) also reported that "an expert [Ofshe] who reviewed the case for the state concluded that Ingram had been brainwashed" (p. 126). In a later article, Kassin (1997) used the Ingram case as an example of a false confession, claiming the following:

Paul Ingram–a deeply religious man and a deputy sheriff in Olympia, Washington–was accused of raping his daughter, sexual abuse, and satanic cult crimes that included the slaughter of newborn babies. After 23 interrogations, which extended for five months, Ingram was detained, hypnotized, provided with graphic crime details, told by a police psychologist that sex offenders typically repress their offenses, and urged by the minister of his church to confess. Ingram eventually "recalled" his crimes, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. (pp. 226-227)

Pendergrast (1995) suggested that Ofshe "proved that Paul Ingram was fantasizing his own guilt" and that "as a result, Ingram is currently jailed for acts that he clearly did not commit" (p. 276). Kandel and Kandel (1994) claimed that as a result of Ofshe's experiment "Ingram . . . developed detailed memories about the invented scenario, casting doubt on all of his previous confessions" (p. 35). Crews (1994) concluded that "in the Ingram case a devout family of seven was shattered for good" (p. 58), and Wright maintained that Ingram "is an innocent man, a victim of hysteria" (Gates, 1996, p. 20).

Given the seriousness of these claims and the potentially wide-reaching impact they can have on current and future legal cases, the practice of psychotherapy, and public policy related to victims of childhood abuse, a careful review is warranted of Ofshe's experiment and his conclusions.

The purpose of this article is not to address the question of Paul Ingram's guilt or innocence. That determination is left to the courts. Rather, we question both the validity of the field experiment Ofshe used and the accuracy of the conclusions he drew from it. In addition, we also examine some of the questionable claims regarding Ingram's confessions. Finally, we discuss the application of data from other contexts that Ofshe used in his attempt to prove that Ingram's confessions were false, and his and others' applications of conclusions from the Ingram case that have been used in an attempt to discredit the veracity of delayed disclosures of childhood sexual abuse in other cases.

Did Ofshe's Experiment Document That Ingram Made a False Confession?

Ofshe's Experiment

On February 2, 1989, more than 2 months after Ingram's initial confessions, Ofshe, during his first day of interrogating Ingram, designed and executed an experiment to confirm his suspicion that Paul was not confessing to crimes he had actually committed (Ofshe & Watters, 1994, p. 172). Ofshe "made a spontaneous decision to run what he later referred to as a 'little experiment' " (Wright, 1993b, p. 66) and introduced a supposedly false allegation into Ingram's interrogation without any advance notification of, or approval from, the detectives interviewing Ingram (N. McClanahan, personal communication, August 19, 1993; Richard Peterson, personal communication, February 1, 1995; Wright, 1993b).

Ofshe fabricated a scenario–that Ingram had forced his son and daughter to have sex together while he watched–and then asked Ingram if he could remember this incident (phase 1 of the experiment). According to Ofshe's description of the experiment (1992), initially Ingram said that he did not remember the incident to which Ofshe referred. Ofshe encouraged Ingram to use the same methods that he had used to remember other alleged incidents before sending him back to his cell. The next day, Ingram told Ofshe that he had some clear memories of making his son and daughter have sex, and he produced a three-page, written confession of the incident. Ofshe then pressured Ingram to renounce the confession (phase 2 of the experiment), which Ingram was unwilling to do.

Similarity of Ofshe's Invented Crime to Actual Allegations

The validity of Ofshe's (1992) experiment is based fundamentally on the assumption that his "test memory" (i.e., the false scenario that Ofshe made up and presented to Ingram) can be verified to be absolutely impossible. Thus, if Ingram eventually believed this supposedly false scenario, there is clear documentation that a pseudomemory was created. Ofshe (1992) claimed that his "false allegation was invented from facts different from any of those in the case" (p. 147). Kassin and Kiechel (1996) reported that "to demonstrate [that Ingram had been brainwashed] this expert [Ofshe] accused Ingram of a bogus crime" (p. 126). However, given the allegations that had already been made against Ingram, an account where his children were forced to have sex with each other would not have been a highly unlikely and certainly not an impossible occurrence.

This fact was not lost on the trial judge. During the evidentiary hearing reviewing the allegations of coercion in the Ingram case, Judge Peterson (1990) criticized Ofshe's use of this particular scenario in his experiment, suggesting that he should have used "something that is totally foreign from anything that could probably be true" (p. 912).

In fact, after Ingram had returned to his jail cell to see if he could remember the scenario presented to him by Ofshe, the detectives responsible for Ingram's interrogation "confronted Ofshe and told him that his comments and suggestions were 'stupid' because the issue of sex between the children had already come up during the course of the investigation" (Richard Peterson, personal communication, February 1, 1995)  [footnote #6]. Between the day he suggested the scenario to Ingram and the next day when Ingram presented his written statement, Ofshe (1992) interviewed Ericka Ingram, the daughter mentioned in the scenario: "She reported that nothing like the invented scene had ever happened" (p. 147). Later that week Detective Vukich interviewed Ericka Ingram who did tell a story that was similar to the description that Ingram wrote in his cell (Richard Peterson, personal communication, February 1, 1995). As Judge Peterson noted (1990) when he refused to set aside Ingram's guilty pleas, Ofshe's supposed false set of facts was "a set of facts that came pretty close to what one of the victims had accused the defendant of" (p. 911).

It seems impossible, therefore, to determine from Ofshe's experiment whether Ingram's confession is of an actual, similar, or totally imagined event. The initial portion of Ofshe's experiment merely demonstrates Ingram's confession of the presented scenario. However, as a result of the methodological difficulties discussed above, Ingram's confession cannot prove or disprove the veracity of the scenario, nor does it clearly delineate causal factors for his confession. Ofshe's experiment does not, therefore, document claims that Ingram's confession is based on a pseudomemory rather than an actual event.

Elimination of Alternative Hypotheses

There are other equally plausible hypotheses, which were not tested for or eliminated by Ofshe's experiment, that could also explain Ofshe's results. Ofshe (1992) considered only two possible explanations for Ingram's confessions: that he was lying (although Ofshe referred to this hypothesis he did not offer documentation to disprove it) or that he had trance-induced pseudomemories created. However, a third explanation–that Ingram, at least in some instances, was essentially telling the truth–clearly offers another hypothesis that must be considered in evaluating the veracity of Ingram's confessions. To definitively prove that Ingram had pseudomemories created by the inadvertent use of hypnosis (or by any other factors), Ofshe must eliminate all other explanations that also offer plausible explanations for Ingram's confessions.

Questionable Assertions Regarding the Ingram Case

Assertions Regarding the Timing of Ingram's Confession

Ofshe (1992) claimed that during the first day of interrogation (November 28, 1988), Ingram "maintained his innocence" and "denied any wrongdoing or knowledge about what was described" (p. 140). Ofshe (1994) insisted that prior to the use of a relaxation technique during the second day of interrogation, Ingram lacked details of his alleged crimes and "had no memory" (p. 97) of the crimes he was alleged to have committed.

Other authors, citing Ofshe (1992), also made claims regarding the timing and causation of Ingram's confessions. Nathan and Snedeker (1995) alleged that "when [Ingram was] first arrested and told [footnote #7]  of his daughter's accusations, Paul Ingram said he had absolutely no memory of committing the crimes" (p. 169). Goleman (1992) reported that "Ofshe said Mr. Ingram, under intensive police interrogation, had come to believe his grown daughters' accusations of childhood abuse by him" (p. C5). Loftus (1993) claimed that "at first Ingram denied everything" (p. 532), but "after five months of interrogation, suggestions from a psychologist, and continuing pressure from detectives and advisors, Ingram began to confess . . ." (p. 533). Kassin and Kiechel (1996) reported the following:

During 6 months of interrogation, he was hypnotized, exposed to graphic crime details, informed by a police psychologist that sex offenders often repress their offenses, and urged by the minister of his church to confess. Eventually Ingram "recalled" crime scenes to specification, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to prison (pp. 125-126).

However, some of the specific details cited in Ofshe's report, which are the basis for these varied claims, are contradicted by other sources, including court transcripts (Judge F. Burgess, 1994; Judge Robert Peterson, 1990) relating to Ingram's appeal. Sheriff Gary Edwards and Undersheriff Neil McClanahan met with Ingram on November 28, 1988, to ask if he knew about the sexual molestation charges his two daughters had made. Both McClanahan and Edwards indicated that Ingram "basically confessed during the first five minutes" of their meeting (N. McClanahan, personal communication, August 19, 1993; Gates, 1996). Ingram was next interrogated by Detectives Vukich and Schoening, officers who had been junior to him in the sheriff department. Several hours into their interrogation, a tape recorder was turned on to record Ingram's official statement. Ingram said, "I really believe that the allegations did occur and I did violate them [his daughters] and abuse them and probably for a long period of time" (Wright, 1993a, pp. 60-61).

According to the court transcripts, by the end of the first day of interrogation (November 28), Ingram had confessed to having sex with each of his daughters, some of which he described in graphic detail (Judge F. Burgess, 1994; Judge Robert Peterson, 1990; Wright, 1993a). During that first day of interrogation,

Ingram told officers, among other things, of sex practices used to prevent pregnancy with one of the daughters, of that daughter's abortion . . . when she did become pregnant by him, and of having anal intercourse with the daughter during her menstrual period so that "the bed wouldn't get messed up." (as related by the Washington Court of Appeals, cited in Burgess, 1994, p. 5)

The report by Judge Burgess (1994) also noted that "the Petitioner [Ingram] does not suggest that this abortion did not in fact take place or was not verifiable" (p. 5, Footnote 3). Moreover, this confession by Ingram to the abuse of his daughters occurred on the first day of interrogation before Ingram had met with his minister or the interrogation team's psychologist and prior to the use of any relaxation technique (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990).


Assertions That Ingram Was Railroaded and Coerced

Ofshe (Clemency and Pardons Board, 1996b) referred to the "railroading of Paul Ingram" (p. 17) and insisted that "on the first day of his interrogation Mr. Ingram was confronted by two of his subordinates who manipulated him for approximately four hours" (p. 4).

However, Sheriff Edwards first met with Ingram on November 28, 1988, and Ingram, who had just returned from vacation, said that he was aware of the charges and had known that he was coming back to "face something" (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990, p. 903). Despite his prior knowledge of the charges and his 16 years of experience in the sheriff's department--where he had "read . . . these rights, same rights to criminals hundreds of times" (Clemency and Pardons Board, 1996b, p. 13)--Ingram waived his right to an attorney.

As McClanahan pointed out, both he and Edwards had worked with Ingram for many years, and they were not trying to "railroad" him into anything (N. McClanahan, personal communication, August 19, 1993). Sheriff Edwards reported that when he first heard allegations that Ingram had sexually abused his daughters, he found "these allegations hard to believe" (Clemency and Pardons Board, 1996b, p. 13). He added:

In reference to the allegations brought by Mr. Ingram's supporters, that he was brain washed, this total interview lasted about 20 minutes, I fully expected him to deny the allegations, not to admit to it and say that there were other victims (p. 13, lines 34-37) . . . [and when he didn't] I just about fell out of my chair, because I fully expected him to deny it. (p. 13, lines 29-30)

Assertions That Ingram Was a Highly Suggestible Individual

Some have alleged that Ingram must be a highly suggestible person. For example, Loftus and Ketcham (1994) argued that "the Paul Ingram case demonstrates, you don't need formal hypnotic induction techniques to induce a trance state; all you need is a suggestible client with a problem" (p. 255) and noted that "Ofshe was aware of . . . 'the Grade 5 personality' " which "describe the five to ten percent of the population who are so hypnotizable and suggestible that they can shift instantaneously . . . into a deep hypnotic trance state" (p. 255). However, no standardized testing was administered by Ofshe to scientifically determine Ingram's level of suggestibility.

Ofshe did not note that studies of hypnosis indicate that suggestibility--an individual's "responsiveness to the communication of another" (Brown & Fromm, 1986, p. 22)--is not due primarily to the hypnotic state, but is a personality trait that varies widely from individual to individual (Hilgard, 1965; Weitzerhoffer & Hilgard, 1959, 1962, 1967). In fact, it has been argued that the degree of suggestibility of an individual during hypnosis does not differ markedly from that of his or her waking state (Evans, 1967; Sheehan, 1988). Therefore, Ingram's suggestibility would likely be similar both in and out of trance states.

Ofshe's own experiment would seem to indicate that in fact Ingram was not a highly suggestible person–in fact, quite the opposite. During the second phase of his experiment, Ofshe tried to get Ingram to recant his confession to the scenario he had previously presented to him. He (1994) noted, "I [unsuccessfully] confronted him [Ingram] strongly for several hours" (p. 98) with the "fact that the scene was invented and had been denied by both the children he named" (Ofshe, 1992, p. 147). Ofshe (1992) argued that Ingram's unwillingness to recant his confession "provides evidence about the limits to his [Ingram's] suggestibility when in a normal state [i.e. when not in trance]" (p. 148) and "demonstrated a consistently low level of responsiveness to influence directed at the contents of his consciousness" (p. 149).

Ofshe (1992) acknowledged that Ingram's "responses to the second phase resembled his reactions during interrogation prior to the induction of trance" (p. 148). As Ingram's confession of the abuse of his daughters occurred during the first day of interrogation, it was made prior to the use of any relaxation exercise. At that time Ingram would presumably (according to Ofshe's claim stated above) have been in his "normal state" and "trance induced pseudomemories" would not have been a factor in his confession. Additionally, there seems to be no reason to think that the first hours of Ingram's interrogation, when he confessed the abuse of his daughters, were in any way more coercive than the several hours during Ofshe's experiment when although Ingram was "intensely" confronted he demonstrated "a consistently low level of responsiveness to influence" (Ofshe, 1992, p. 149) and refused to change his story in response to the demand and influence of the interrogator (i.e., Ofshe).

Claims of Proof That Ingram Was Hypnotized

Ofshe (1994) claimed that "Ingram was hypnotized without being told this was about to happen" (p. 96) and that he was "convinced to confess and did so in immediate response to a visualization produced by a relaxation based hypnotic induction" (p. 96). Ofshe (1994) summarized his conclusions by stating, "the fact that Mr. Ingram was convinced of his guilt by images he was induced to visualize in trance is beyond dispute since the history of his decision-making is similarly preserved on the tapes" (p. 97).

Although Ofshe (1992) argued that the use of hypnosis combined with the influence exerted by authority figures are causal factors in the creation of Ingram's supposed "pseudomemories," no such technique or pressure appears to have been used during the initial questioning of Ingram (Judge Robert Peterson, 1990). In addition, Ofshe (1992) mistakenly equated the use of a technique (relaxation) which could create a hypnotic induction with the actual creation of a "trance state." In fact, Ingram was never tested to determine his level of hypnotizability, and there is no independent evidence to substantiate the claim that Ingram indeed entered a trance state. If a trance state was entered, Ofshe offered no empirical measures to document what if any impact such a state might have on Ingram's self-reports, visualizations, or beliefs. As Judge Peterson (1990) remarked, "Dr. Ofshe . . . finds the defendant [Ingram] to be in a hypnotic state, or in a trance on November 29th from reading a dry record. I find that to be strange. I wonder if that can be done" (p. 912).

Ofshe (1992) made a claim that "techniques that depend on 'relaxation' or 'guided imagery' . . . should be universally recognized as being capable of causing trance" (p. 129). Even if such a claim could be supported, in this case measurements of Ingram's subjective and physiological responses were not administered and thus there is no documentation that Ingram's response to the interrogation team's use of a "relaxation technique," was indeed that of relaxation.

Ofshe argued (1992) that his experiment demonstrates (a) that during phase 1 Ingram was suggestible and created pseudomemories while in a "trance state" (reflecting on the alleged crime in his cell), and (b) that "Mr. Ingram's reaction to the second phase of the experiment provides evidence about the limits to his suggestibility when in a normal state" (p. 148). As already noted, this claim was made despite the lack of evidence that the procedures used by Ofshe during phase 1 of the experiment constituted a hypnotic induction, that these procedures indeed resulted in Ingram entering a trance state, and that such a "trance state" was no longer present during phase 2 of the experiment.

Ofshe (1992) also asserted that Ingram's failure to recant during phase 2 of the experiment demonstrated his "consistently low level of responsiveness to influence directed at the contents of his consciousness" (1992, p. 149). In fact, Ingram's refusal to recant could, in our view, instead reflect the accuracy of his confession. What does seem clear is that the data from Ofshe's experiment do not clearly delineate or empirically document the nature of Ingram's "state" during Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the experiment.

Documentation That Hypnosis Caused Ingram to Develop Pseudomemories

Ofshe's (1992) conclusion that the inadvertent use of trance was the salient factor in creating Ingram's confessions was based primarily on the timing of the relaxation technique's introduction. It is difficult to credit Ofshe's assertion that something specific to the nature of the trance state is so inherently powerful that it could succeed in causing Ingram to believe in his own guilt–a result that his extreme religious beliefs, incarceration, solitary confinement, and interrogation techniques had supposedly failed to produce. The creation of pseudomemories is neither unique nor specific to trance states (Lynn, Weekes, & Milano, 1989; McConkey, Labelle, Bibb, & Bryant, 1990; Spanos, Gwynn, Comer, Baltruweit, & deGroh, 1989; Weekes, Lynn, Green, & Brentar, 1992).

Ofshe's (1992) assertions that Ingram's visualizations were "hypnotically induced pseudo-memories" (p. 129) and "trance-induced images" (p. 134) are unproven. Whether changes in Ingram's ability to visualize his supposed crimes actually occurred is impossible to determine, as self-reports do not necessarily correspond reliably to subjective experience. In addition, self-reports can be greatly influenced by numerous other factors such as social pressure, demand characteristics, and shifts in report criteria.

Although there is some evidence to suggest that trance states may be associated with an enhancement in the quantity and quality of visual imagery (Brown & Fromm, 1986; Fromm et al., 1981; Hilgard, 1974), it is not clear that Ingram's visualizations were caused or increased solely by a relaxation—trance state. It is plausible that Ingram's presumed increased ability to visualize the alleged crimes would have occurred spontaneously as a result of other factors, even if the supposed relaxation—trance had not been introduced. In addition, it is impossible to ascertain whether an increase in visual imagery (if any increase did occur) was a primary causative factor in Ingram's belief in his own guilt. Whereas the introduction of relaxation—trance may have enhanced Ingram's visual imagery, his admission of guilt and his belief in it were established in his first interview, prior to the use of any relaxation technique (see the section Ofshe's Assertions Regarding the Timing of Ingram's Confession above).

Ofshe (1992) tried to prove that Ingram entered a trance state by arguing that the presence of illogical statements in Ingram's report–for example, Ingram heard his daughter speak and the next instant a gag appeared in her mouth (p. 144)–are examples of "trance logic." However, individuals often make illogical statements during the course of everyday life, perhaps even more frequently during instances of high anxiety, such as that which might be expected during a police interrogation. There is no research that indicates that the mere presence of illogical or contradictory statements reliably documents either the presence of "trance logic" or a "trance state."

Assumption That Any Error in Ingram's Confessions Discredits All of His Confessions

Ofshe did not consider–nor definitively exclude–the hypothesis that Ingram's confessions, although certainly containing some inaccuracies (as all memories do), essentially reflected the occurrence of actual events. However, information retrieved during hypnosis has been demonstrated to contain instances of both more accurate and more inaccurate information (Dywan & Bowers, 1983; Sheehan, 1988; Shields & Knox, 1986). Therefore the possible presence of a trance state or "trance logic" in and of itself does not automatically prove that the entire content of Ingram's recollections is false, nor does it prove the creation of pseudomemories related to Ingram's abuse of his daughters.

Anecdotal and Experimental Data From Other Contexts to Prove Ingram's Confessions Were False

In an attempt to prove that Ingram's confessions were false and that he was innocent, Ofshe asserted that just like Paul Ingram, many others have been led to falsely believe that instances of abuse have happened. Ofshe (Clemency and Pardons Board, 1996b) claimed:

at the time he [Ingram] entered his guilty plea . . . he was diluted [sic] by the actions of the state by bringing in the clinical psychologist, by teaching him to do the visualization techniques. They put him in a position similar to the thousands upon thousands of others on whom the same techniques have been used and have visualized scenes of perhaps equal horror to what was alleged to have happened in the Ingram case. (pp. 4-5)

Unfortunately, Ofshe offered no documentation for his claim. We have been unable to find any data or evidence to substantiate his assertion of the "thousands upon thousands of others on whom the same techniques have been used," nor is there any independent documentation that all these thousands of individuals came to visualize or believe false scenes of horror as result of a visualization technique taught to them by a psychologist.

Similarly, the simplistic application of experimental laboratory studies regarding memory or false confessions to the Ingram case lacks a scientific basis and far exceeds the data available. For example, at Ingram's clemency hearing, Loftus, who was introduced as "one of the leading experts in the world on memory" (Clemency and Pardons Board, 1996b, p. 2) gave this opinion:

Paul Ingram was persuaded that these kind of [things] had happened to him and that he had committed these crimes. It is a very powerful technique to get someone to believe that they did something when you say to them there is another person who says they saw it. I brought with me a brand new piece of scientific work, published just this month in Psychological Science by Saul Casin [sic], on forced confessions. And in this piece of work Dr. Casin [sic] shows, that you can under certain circumstances get ninety percent of a sample of normal adults to confess to committing an act that they didn't do. (p. 6)

Freyd (1996) reviewed the article by Kassin and Kiechel (1996) to which Loftus referred. She noted that the article (which included reference to the Ingram case as an example of a false confession) reported a single study where participants were accused of damaging a computer by pressing the wrong key and "seems to equate accidentally and fleetingly hitting the wrong key while typing . . . with a father repeatedly and intentionally raping his daughter over several years" (p. 8). Freyd stressed that when such research is disseminated, "its relevance and it's limitations must be carefully communicated" (p. 8).

Application of the Ingram Case to Allegations of Abuse in Other Contexts

Ofshe's use of his conclusions regarding the Ingram case to discredit the veracity of delayed disclosures of sexual abuse made by adult survivors seems unwarranted. Despite the lack of a scientific basis for his claims, Ofshe and Watters (1994) asserted that "Paul's creation of pseudomemories holds several lessons that can be applied to recovered memory therapy" (p. 174). Ofshe (1994) also referred to Ingram's interrogation as "Mr. Ingram's recovered memory/interrogation therapy" (p. 97), thus blurring the distinction between a criminal investigation—interrogation and psychotherapy. Although Ingram was not in therapy and the mental health professionals cited were part of the prosecution's interrogation team, Ofshe applied the Ingram case to the psychotherapeutic context, claiming that mental health professionals are "influencing their clients to find 'memories' that the therapists believe to be buried in the client's unconscious" (1992, p. 153).

Ofshe is not alone in such writing regarding the Ingram case (Gardner, 1993; Goleman, 1992; Meacham, 1993; Robinson, 1993; Watters, 1993; Wright, 1993b) and the practice of psychotherapy. Ofshe's (1992) experiment and resulting conclusions in the Ingram case have frequently been set forth as scientific proof regarding the possibility, extent, and ease of creating pseudomemories of sexual abuse during psychotherapy. Pendergrast (1995) claimed that Ingram fell "under the sway of zealous therapists/interrogators" (pp. 275-276) and suggested (1997) that "even confessions by those accused do not necessarily constitute corroboration [of memories of childhood sexual abuse] . . . as the case of Paul Ingram should remind us."

Loftus (1993) made a similar generalization to psychotherapy when she contended that "what is crucial about the Ingram case is that some of the same methods that are used in repressed memory cases were used with Ingram" (p. 533) and that "the false memories created . . . were accomplished with techniques that are not at all that different from what some therapists regularly do" (p. 533). Schooler (1994) cited Ofshe's (1992) article on the Ingram case to support the idea that "others suggest that such accounts [of delayed recall of abuse] should be viewed with marked skepticism" (p. 452).


In an even more extreme claim, Wright (1993b) suggested that "what happened to the Ingram family . . . is actually happening to thousands of other people throughout the country who have been accused on the basis of recovered memories" and that whereas "perhaps some of the memories are real; certainly many are false" (p. 76). Wright asserted the existence of thousands of cases of accusations that are similar to the Ingram case even though when he was asked how many cases of false accusation he had actually documented, he conceded that he had documented only one (Herman, 1994), in our opinion, the implicated meaning being Ingram.

Despite these dramatic claims, there are no definitive data to clearly document that Ingram was led to falsely believe in his own guilt regarding the six counts of third degree rape, for which he was sentenced, or that his allegedly false beliefs resulted from suggestive influences and the use of hypnosis. Moreover, even if one were to assume hypothetically that pseudomemories had been created at some point, Ofshe's "experiment" left all other influences on Ingram as well as all other factors completely uncontrolled. Logically and scientifically, it is impossible to use this anecdote to prove that the behaviors Ofshe identified were the necessary or sufficient conditions for the occurrence of the supposed pseudomemories or that they bore any causal relationship to them.

Scientific documentation has a rigorous tradition. Research conclusions are not applicable to phenomena and subject populations different from those originally studied. Ofshe's findings in the Ingram case are, at best, speculative and preliminary in nature, and they should be used only to design follow-up studies of these phenomena. At this point, there are no empirically supported conclusions and thus no meaningful applications. Given the extreme conditions and the sample of 1 in the Ingram case, empirical findings, even if they were available, would be applicable only to narrowly restricted circumstances, such as individuals in captivity or interrogations with political prisoners.

Given the lack of empirical data and serious methodological flaws in Ofshe's experiment, a quick and unquestioning acceptance of Ofshe's claim regarding the "facts" of the Ingram case does a disservice to both professionals and the general public. As Herman (1994, p. 44) noted, "one bizarre and equivocal case seems like no evidence at all for an epidemic." (See also Pope, 1996, 1997, and 1998; Such one-sided, simplistic, and perhaps distorted information provides a faulty and sometimes dangerous basis for developing crucial public policy regarding childhood abuse and for setting the standard of care in psychotherapy.

Use of Ofshe's experiment in the Ingram case to support a "false memory" theory to account for disclosures of childhood abuse during psychotherapy becomes but another "fascinating and chilling example of the ease with which an unsubstantiated hypothesis can be transformed into a social fact" (Ofshe, 1992, p. 153). This article has cited only a few examples of the extent to which Ofshe's imperfect narrative of this case and pseudoscientific conclusions have been uncritically accepted and repeated in the literature, thus becoming an academic version of an urban legend.



Footnote 1: Richard G. Peterson, the psychologist in question, clarified this matter: "Contrary to her [Loftus] statement that I 'exerted enormous pressure over endless hours of interrogation' (p. 529), I was present at only two of the many interviews that took place over a period of three to four months" (1994, p. 443).

Footnote 2: :  Browning, Wright, and Nelson (1995) noted that "Ingram knew [at the time of his original plea] that the sociologist [Ofshe] did not believe that he was guilty" (p. 4).

Footnote 3: Browning et al. (1995) noted that "In October, 1989, with new counsel, he [Ingram] moved to withdraw his guilty plea."

Footnote 4: Judge Peterson (1990) noted that Dr. Lennon's report, which was not available on May 1, 1989, when Ingram plead guilty, came in the brief of the defense (p. 909) and that it was a "highly negative report from the standpoint of the defense that recommended that Ingram would be at high risk to reoffend" (p. 910).

Footnote 5: In the decision regarding Ingram's petition to the United States District Court for federal habeas corpus, Judge Burgess (1994) noted that "the trial court held an extensive evidentiary hearing on the coercion issue" (p. 2). Browning et al. (1995), in the Opinion Memorandum regarding Ingram's appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, noted that "during the six-day hearing, the state court heard testimony from two psychologists, a family counselor, a sociologist and Ingram himself" (p. 3) and that "after an extended hearing, the court denied the motion [to withdraw Ingram's guilty plea]" (p. 3).

Footnote 6: These facts are also confirmed by other sources, including N. McClanahan (personal communication, August 19, 1993) and Wright (1993b) .

Footnote 7: Ingram knew about his daughter's charges before being questioned by the Sheriff's office. According to Judge Robert Peterson (1990), Ingram acknowledged knowing about his daughter's accusations during the vacation he took prior to being questioned by the sheriff's department.


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