Body memory

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This article is about the hypothesis of unconscious extra-cerebral memories. For unconscious cerebral memories, see implicit memory.

Body memory is a hypothesis that the body itself is capable of storing memories, as opposed to only the brain. This is used to explain having memories for events where the brain was not in a position to store memories and is sometimes a catalyst for repressed memory recovery. These memories are often characterised with phantom pain in a part or parts of the body – the body appearing to remember the past trauma. The idea of body memory is a belief frequently associated with the idea of repressed memories, in which memories of incest or sexual abuse can be retained and recovered through physical sensations. The idea is pseudoscientific as there are no hypothesized means by which tissues other than the brain are capable of storing memories. Some evidence suggests that such means may be available to simpler forms of life.

Cellular memory

Cellular memory is an additional hypothesis that memories can be stored outside the brain. However, unlike body memory, the cellular memory hypothesis states that these memories are stored in all the cells of human bodies, not in the bodies’ organs. The idea that non-brain tissues can have memories is also believed by some individuals who have received organ transplants, though this is also considered impossible.

In the 1950s and 1960s James McConnell conducted experiments on flatworms to measure how long it took them to learn a maze. McConnell trained a group of flatworms to move around a maze and then chopped them into small pieces and fed them to an untrained group of worms. The untrained group learned to complete the maze faster compared to other worms that had not been fed the trained worms. McConnell believed the experiment indicated a form of cellular memory. It was later shown that the training involved stressing the worms with electric shocks to avoid mistakes in the maze. This kind of stress releases hormones that stay in the body, thus there was no evidence for memory transfer. Similar experiments with mice being trained in a maze and being fed to untrained mice also showed improved learning. It was not a memory that was transferred but a hormonally enriched heart or liver.


In 1993, a psychologist Susan E. Smith, in a paper – which was first presented at a false memory syndrome Conference – relating to the idea of "Survivor Psychology", stated that:

"body memories are thought to literally be emotional, kinesthetic, or chemical recordings stored at the cellular level and retrievable by returning to or recreating the chemical, emotional, or kinesthetic conditions under which the memory recordings are filed. She wrote in the abstract of the paper that "one of the most commonly used theories to support the ideology of repressed memories or incest and sexual abuse amnesia is body memories."

Smith makes her position clear when she goes on to say:

"The belief in these pseudoscientific concepts appears to be related to scientific illiteracy, gullibility, and a lack of critical thinking skills and reasoning abilities in both the mental health community and in society at large".