Back in the 1980s, alarm spread throughout the world with respect to claims that Satanic abuse was not only real, it was widespread. Fuelled largely by pressure groups and the media, many people came to believe that there was an international network of powerful individuals who regularly engaged in rituals involving Satan worship, human and animal sacrifice, group sex, paedophilia, forced abortions, cannibalism, and so on. There were two main sources of evidence put forward in support of such claims. First, such abuse had been reported by hundreds of children in day care centres. Secondly, there were many reports from adults who had entered into therapy for common psychological problems, initially with no memories of ever being the victims of such abuse. During therapy, however, they recovered traumatic memories of abuse that had been apparently been buried in their unconscious minds for many years. We now know that the reports from the children in day care centres were the result of grossly inappropriate forms of questioning. The reports from adults in therapy were almost certainly false memories unintentionally produced by the therapy itself. This talk will discuss some of the lessons that we should learn from the Satanic Panic – and the very real possibility that it could happen again.
Chris French is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and a Patron of the British Humanist Association. He is a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 150 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He writes for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine. His most recent books are Anomalistic Psychology, co-authored with Nicola Holt, Christine Simmonds-Moore, and David Luke (2012, Palgrave Macmillan), and Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience, co-authored with Anna Stone (2014, Palgrave Macmillan).