The Facade of Scientific Documentation:
A Case Study of Richard Ofshe's Analysis of the Paul Ingram Case
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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
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; http://kspope.com.) 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 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 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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