A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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Cryptomnesia is, literally, hidden memory. The term was coined by psychology professor Théodore Flournoy (1854-1921) and is used to explain the origin of experiences that people believe to be original but which are actually based on memories of events they've forgotten. It seems likely that most so-called past life regressions induced through hypnosis are confabulations fed by cryptomnesia. For example, Virginia Tighe's hypnotic recollections of Bridey Murphy of Cork, Ireland (Bridie Murphey Corkell), if not deliberately fraudulent, are most likely recollections of events that happened in this life but which she had forgotten. Likewise, the "past-life" memories of Ann Evans, produced while under hypnosis by Arnall Bloxham, were almost certainly unconsciously produced confabulations.

Cryptomnesia may also explain how the apparent plagiarism of such people as Helen Keller or George Harrison of the Beatles might actually be cases of hidden memory. Harrison didn't intend to plagiarize the Chiffon's "He's So Fine" in "My Sweet Lord." Nor did Keller intend to plagiarize Margaret Canby's "The Frost Fairies" when she wrote "The Frost King." Both may simply be cases of not having a conscious memory of their experiences of the works in question.

The first recorded instance of cryptomnesia occurred in 1874 and involved William Stanton Moses, a medium who, during a séance, claimed to be in contact with the spirits if two brothers who had recently died in India. The deaths were verified, but "further research showed that the obituary ran in a newspaper six days before the séance and all information in the obituary was given in the séance and nothing more was added."*

See also automatic writing and memory.

further reading

books and articles

Baker, Robert A. Hidden Memories : Voices and Visions from Within (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996).

Brown, Alan S. and Dana R. Murphy. (1989). "Cryptomnesia: Delineating Inadvertent Plagiarism," Journal of Experimental Psychology 15.3: 432-42.

Schick, Jr., Theodore and Lewis Vaughn, How to Think About Weird Things  2nd ed. (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1998),

Shultz, Ted. "Voices from Beyond: The Age-Old Mystery of Channeling," in The Fringes of Reason, ed. Ted Schultz (New York: Harmony Books, 1988).

Zusne,  Leonard and Warren Jones. 2nd ed. Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking 2nd edition. (Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. 1989).


"Plagiarism or memory glitch? Inadvertent plagiarism complicates efforts to end cheating" by Siri Carpenter

Christmas Essay Was Not His, Author Admits

Last updated 26-Oct-2015

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