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Though originally working in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University for eight years, Clancy now works at INCAE, where she is Associate Professor in Consumer Behavior and Research Director of INCAE's Center for Women's Leadership.
Clancy is a prominent researcher in the field of memory. Her research mainly focuses on the impacts of trauma on memory and individual susceptibility to false memory creation. She initially conducted her research on people with supposed 'recovered memories' of childhood abuse as she believed that at least some of these memories may be false. However, although she was sure that many of these memories were false, she could not accurately determine whether the subjects had or had not been abused in childhood. To rectify this problem, Clancy then shifted her attention to recovered memories of events that almost certainly never happened- those of alien abductions. This allowed her to investigate possible individual differences that may make one more likely to develop false memories.
In October 2005 her book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens was published. Clancy came to the subject of alien abductions while studying recovered memories, a phenomenon her research has called into question. Because her original research subjects, people who had recovered memories (generally via hypnosis) of sexual abuse, proved a politically sensitive group to debunk, Clancy decided to aim instead at the claims and recovered memories of alleged outer-space alien abductees. This latter group was neither viewed sympathetically by the public, thus refuting their claims would not be politically problematic, nor did its claims of alien encounters have any scientific credibility to begin with. Therefore, Clancy could focus her work on determining how exactly people came to believe they were abducted by aliens, and how they recovered memories of such a thing, while she assumed the factual nature of their claims to be prima facie false.
The latter working assumption has of course irritated many alleged abductees, including many of the people who supplied research data for Clancy's work. She argues that while she has sympathy for their experiences — all of which she says have worldly, physiological, explanations — she is not compelled from a scientific standpoint to accept their extraordinary claims on faith alone. And, remarkably, Clancy reports that the majority of people who told her they believed they had been abducted by aliens, did not in fact have any specific memory that this had actually occurred. They simply chose to believe this was the explanation for various anomalous, but mundane, conditions they were experiencing. Those who do have memories of alien abduction, Clancy found to have undergone either hypnosis or other kinds of processes known to distort memories or to create false memories. She also argues that people searching for answers and for meaning are highly motivated to mold their experiences, and even their memories, to fit seemingly all-embracing explanations in which they wish to believe.
Clancy admits that her own take on the abduction experience is not likely to convince believers that they are mistaken in their claims, but she is arguing as a scientist about what is likely, and not as a promoter of Ufology about what is remotely possible or effectively impossible.
Clancy appeared in the 2005 documentary UFOs: Seeing is Believing, and in a Discovery Channel Show, Conspiracy Theory, in 2007.
The Trauma Myth
In January 2010, Perseus Books published her book The Trauma Myth, in which she suggests that child sexual abuse is rarely a traumatic experience for the victims at the time it occurs, and is instead described by victims as confusing. She argues that later in life, after the memories are processed, examined, and more fully understood, the experience becomes traumatic.
Clancy writes in “The Trauma Myth” that when she arrived at Harvard in 1996, the trauma theory held that “a child will only participate in abuse if forced, threatened, or explicitly coerced” (p. 41). Then she interviewed victims and learned, “They did not fight it. It was not done against their will. They went along... only 5% tried to stop it” (p. 41). Clancy concludes that since sexual abuse of children is not violent per se, the millions of victims who did not experience their sex abuse as traumatic grapple with crippling thoughts of shame, embarrassment, and self-blame, thus compounding their suffering. She advocates for a refined understanding of the immediate effects of child sex abuse in order to better help those who are excluded from a clinical and popular culture that embraces the trauma model.
- Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped
- The Trauma Myth: The Truth about the Sexual Abuse of Children—and its Aftermath; ISBN 978-0-465-01688-4
Clancy, S. A., McNally, R. J. & Schacter, D. L. (1999). Effects of guided imagery on memory distortions in women reporting recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 12, 4, 559-569
McNally, R. J., Lasko, N. B., Clancy, S. A., Macklin, M. L., Pitman, R. K. & Orr, S. P. (2004). Psychophysiological responding during script-drive imagery in people reporting abduction by space aliens. Psychological Science, 15, 7, 493-497.
McNally, R. J. & Clancy, S. A. (2004). Sleep paralysis in adults reporting repressed, recovered, or continuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 19, 595-602
McNally, R. J. & Clancy, S. A. (2005). Sleep paralysis, sexual abuse, and space alien abduction. Transcultural Psychiatry, 42, 1, 113-122.
McNally, R. J., Clancy, S. A., Barrett, H. M. & Parker, H. A. (2005). Reality monitoring in adults reporting repressed, recovered, or continuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 1, 147-152.
McNally, R. J., Perlman, C. A., Ristuccia, C. S. & Clancy, S. A. (2006). Clinical characteristics of adults reporting repressed, recovered, or continuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 2, 237-242.
- Burns, Angie (2006). "Book Review: Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens". Feminism & Psychology 16 (4): 505–507.
- "INCAE Faculty-Personal Information".
- INCAE Faculty-Professional Experience
- McNally, Richard J.; Clancy, Susan A. (2005). "Sleep Paralysis, Sexual Abuse, and Space Alien Abduction". Transcultural Psychiatry 42 (1): 113–122.
- INCAE Business School Team-Susan Clancy
- "Perseus Books Home". Perseus Books. 2010-01-04. Retrieved 2010-01-20.
- "Sexual abuse". Salon. 2010-01-18. Retrieved 2010-01-20.
- A Bad Trip Down Memory Lane, The New York Times Magazine, July 27, 2003
- Alien abduction claims explained, Harvard Gazette