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Woody Allen and those allegations

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It is hard to be agnostic when someone is charged with a terrible crime like child abuse. It is still harder when that person is a beloved filmmaker and symbol of artistic excellence (even if few of his recent films have lived up to expectations). Given the depth of some people’s emotional attachment to Allen and his films, many have reacted by refusing to believe Dylan Farrow’s claims that she was abused by him. Others, though, can’t believe that she would lie about something like that, and have therefore concluded that the allegations are true.

But we do not have to choose between branding Allen or Farrow a liar. Whatever the truth of the allegations, they might both be completely sincere in what they say. Decades of research on memory have shown that memory doesn’t work like a camera: we don’t take snapshots of scenes which we can then consult at will. Rather, memory is a reconstructive processes, in which we retrieve past events by piecing together various cues. That leaves us vulnerable to what psychologists call confabulating memories: making them up, without knowing it.

One way in which this happens is when truly recall something, but fail to recall the source of the memory. There are multiple studies of convictions later overturned on the basis of conclusive DNA evidence: eyewitness testimony plays a role in the original conviction in around three quarters of cases. Confusion about the source of memories probably helps explain how this happens: eyewitness might have seen the person in a mugbook, or in a store, and then thought they recalled seeing him at the scene of the crime (in one case reported by Daniel Schacter, a woman misidentified a man as her rapist because she had seen him on TV just prior to the rape).

Confabulation regarding sexual abuse has been demonstrated in a case in which a person actually confessed to abusing his daughter in bizarre satanic rituals. A psychologist who interviewed the man made up details of the crimes deliberately. At first the man denied that those details were true, but later he came to recall them. In her work, Elizabeth Loftus has shown that about 30% of people can be led to confabulate memories in the lab. In everyday life, the percentage might be higher, especially when events are emotionally charged and the person is encouraged to imagine them repeatedly. After a while, she may come to mistake her imaginings for recollections. Neither intelligence nor good character seems to protect against this.

One possibility, therefore, is that having been pressured around the time of the original allegations to recall events, Dylan Farrow came to think they actually happened (we need not suppose any nefarious motives on the part of those pressuring her: they might simply have been trying to find out what happened). Another possibility is that Woody Allen sincerely denies the abuse, but it is he who is confabulating. It is probably more likely that a child is more vulnerable to confabulation than an adult. In any case, we don’t need to decide who is telling the truth (nor is there any good reason to think that lie detecting tests would help). Both sides might be sincere, but at least one of them is wrong.


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22 Comment on this post

  1. I don’t usually pay much attention to media sensationalism, but as a huge Woody Allen fan, I was interested in reading about it. Your article was interesting. But saying he is “charged with a terrible crime” is misleading. He is not charged, and never was. He is being publicly accused of something which, per the statute of limitations, which expired 15 years ago, he cannot be legally. Fan or not, I would automatically have a problem with this. I think the media has shown a horrible lack of integrity here, as mere allegations – without an ongoing investigation, confession, eye witness, conviction, indictment, or even the POSSIBILITY of an indictment – should not become news. Woody Allen might be innocent. And since it’s legally a moot issue, that should have been enough for the media to step back from this. Consider the precedent being set here. Any famous person has a giant target on their back. If they upset anyone – even 22 years ago, if anyone has “confabulated memories”, or was somehow scorned, they can report something like this, use the threat of it for extortion, etc. Then the accused person is ruined, guilty or not. There is no way to defend against this. Anyone who even questions the accusers statements is “victim blaming”. But what about the Duke Lacrosse team? What about T’wana Brawley? What about the social workers scandal? The fact is, SOMETIMES accusers turn out to be wrong, lying or otherwise. And since, LEGALLY, we’re never gonna know about Woody Allen, why would the media do something like this?

    1. I have to reply to myself here. Actually, LEGALLY, we do know. A panel of experts determined 22 years ago Woody Allen did not molest his daughter. He was not charged. Period. This is a witch hunt, and the witch can never be found. There is he said-she said. If Dylan believes she was molested, or if she was in fact molested, I wonder how therapeutic any of this can really be for her. I wonder what therapist would ever advise or condone writing a public letter, in which she not only vilifies Allen, but also the actors in his films and the organizations who recognize his work. Seems to me this will only make her situation worse, and ultimately, strengthen and perpetuate her sense of victimhood.

      1. So not true please don’t spread undocumented lies. The Yale team did not confirm anything. They “hypothesis” they gave their hypothesis read the document . Even in that they failed. They try to determine something they were not qualified to do which is whether she was molested or not.

        They were only 2 social workers and 1 pediatrician they refused to take the stand. Then they tried to sanitize their report by throwing away Dylan’s interview notes. They REFUSED TO TAKE THE STAND in their own defense. Which the judge threw out their hypothesis as less than credible.

        I encourage everyone to read JUDGE WILK RULING : ALLEN VS. FARROW JUNE 7, 1993

        1. “I have also considered the report of the Yale-New Haven team and the deposition testimony of Dr. John Leventhal. ” “The unavailability of the notes, together with their unwillingness to testify at this trial except through the deposition of Dr. Leventhal,compromised my ability to scrutinize their findings and resulted in a report which was sanitized and therefore less credible.

        Judge Wilk found the team not credible therefore the team determined nothing regarding abuse.

        “Unlike Yale-New Haven I am not persuaded that the videotape of Dylan is the product of leading questions or of the child’s fantasy”
        “Ms. Farrow statement to Dr. Coates that she hoped that Dylans statements were just fantasy is inconsistent with the notion of brainwashing. In this regard I also credit the testimony of Ms. Groteke, who was charged with supervising Mr. Allen August 4, visit with Dylan.”

        1. My guess here is that you, Skank, simply have an axe to grind. I’m not sure if you were even responding to me, but again, the bottom line is that this case was investigated and NOT pursued. Nor is it going to be pursued. And ultimately, what that means is that a famous person who MIGHT be innocent is having his reputation permanently tarnished. Any objective person would have a problem with that. But a lot of people are not objective about this. People like you, who are COMPLETELY outside looking in (like the rest of us) have some investment in Woody Allen’s guilt – even though he was never even charged with a crime, even though members of his family do not believe he molested Dylan, even though the folks assigned to investigate the case “hypothesized” three different scenarios, and “hypothesized” that the two most likely scenarios are the ones suggesting his innocence. And even though Mia Farrow’s behavior was also wildly erratic, inappropriate, unethical, and down right scary at times. And even though Woody Allen passed a lie detector test while Mia Farrow never took one.

        2. What does that mean?

          “They refused.” Why weren’t they subpoenaed?
          If testifying and showing the internal notes is standard procedure, why did they not do it? If you are accusing them of fraud, why were they not taken to task by some formal body in their field (psychological association)?

          Why did you not mention that the appellate court disagreed with Wilk?

          Wilk would make a poor psychologist. He can’t even figure out that Mia is able to pretend, “I hope it is just fantasy.” (Dr Coates testified that Mia was, mysteriously, “too calm.”)

          Unfortunately, Justice Wilk is not intelligent. He lauded Mia for “believing the daughter, when so many mothers (who are deeply in love with the father) do not.” He is a confused man.

          1. At the very least, why didn’t Mia’s expert, Dr Herman, raise any of these objections? He objected to other things. Eg, “The Yale team should not have said that Ms Farrow needs therapy.”

      2. I agree with shank here you have to read the court documents which are available everywhere online. It is 33 pages long. It included what the judge thought about the hypothesis of Yale team. Judge Wilk did not think much of the which has become to be known as the Allen Yale team. Turns out after they interviewed Dylan they informed Allen before they informed anyone else about what she said.

        They threw out Dylan’s interview notes which are against HIPPA. No wonder the judge tossed out their findings. It was also found out later that the doctors on the team were employed by Allen in the past. This is a blatant conflict of interest.

        You can’t try to re-spin history when the facts are right there in the case notes including the judges decisions.

        1. “They threw out Dylan’s interview notes which are against HIPPA.”

          Whatever point you’re trying to make while defaming Woody Allen is undermined by the fact that you claim that “interview notes” were thrown “out” “against HIPPA”.

          However, HIPPA was not enacted by US Congress and signed into law by President Clinton until August 1996, long AFTER Mia Farrow falsely accused Woody Allen of molesting his adoptive daughter Dylan.

          Ergo, you’re extremely unreliable and your post should be discounted as just another baseless attack on Woody Allen by mind-controlled haters.

  2. 1. The statue of limitations in CT where it occurred have NOT RUN OUT.

    2. Allen story of woman scorned was blown to pieces by the judge in the case who decided.

    JUDGE WILK RULING : ALLEN VS. FARROW JUNE 7, 1993 Supreme Court documents

    “Unlike Yale-New Haven I am not persuaded that the videotape of Dylan is the product of leading questions or of the child’s fantasy”

    “Ms. Farrow statement to Dr. Coates that she hoped that Dylans statements were just fantasy is inconsistent with the notion of brainwashing. In this regard I also credit the testimony of Ms. Groteke, who was charged with supervising Mr. Allen August 4, visit with Dylan.”

    “there is no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan or that Ms. Farrow acted upon a desire for revenge against him for seducing Soon-Yi. Mr. Allen’s resort to the stereotypical ‘woman scorned’ defense is an injudicious attempt to divert attention from his failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.”

    The judge DID NOT THINK DYLAN WAS MAKING IT UP or otherwise influenced AT ALL. It was upheld by the subsequent court in May 7, 1995.

    Please fact check this article and review the court trial papers as it is markedly incorrect.

    1. @Shank. I’ve read this before. And some of it does reflect poorly on Woody Allen. But this is not the DEFINITIVE take on the molest accusations. Nor was this judge presiding over the molest accusation case. Why? THERE WAS NO MOLEST CASE. This judge was opining about the issue of custody. And if you’ve ever been involved in a custody case – which I have – you understand the nature of certain things. Judges don’t like to make decisions, ridiculous as that may sound. Often in custody cases, judges will encourage the parties to work it out themselves. Ultimately, a court isn’t gonna take custody away from the mother. But rarely will a court acknowledge that there is a preference toward the mother – and there, for good reasons IMO. Also, in a case like this, the court has to weight the information presented by both sides then justify the decision they are making. The judge here may well have acknowledged certain points mage by Allen’s lawyers against Mia, but ultimately cited her accusations against him (in a general way) to justify ruling in her favor. But even if that wasn’t the case, you could have also quoted the “experts” who actually investigated the molest accusations (which I have), and determined Allen did NOT molest his daughter. At the end of the day, there is he said-she said, Ronan believes Dylan, Moses does not. And by any fair standard Mia’s behavior was also “irresponsible” to say the least. How do you feel it reflects on her, for instance, to have said Ronan might be Fran Sinatra’s child? Really? What about Frank’s widow, who he was married to at the time and who is still with us? What about Frank’s kids? What about the fortune in child support Allen has paid Mia for Ronan? Bottom line, this is a mess. YOU don’t know what happened, nor does anyone else. And without there being a LEGAL case, this is a giant smear campaign against someone who MIGHT be innocent. And that is WRONG.

    2. When Shank (@5:09 PM) tells us about the “brilliant” Justice Wilk, my favorite part is “woman scorned was blown to pieces.”

      There is a chance that Mia did not implant it. But among the many things that we heard from the appellate court, is the horrendous parental alienation that Mia subjected Satchel to. “Blown to pieces”? Mia alerted the entire house to the dangers of Allen, that he molested Soon-Yi & will molest Dylan. This was Dylan’s frame of mind. Even the unprofessional Wilk admitted that Mia should not have done that to the children, no matter how upset she was about Soon-Yi. Yale said that every time Dylan said that daddy molested her “she coupled it with Soon-Yi.”

  3. Child abuse memories are not invented. This essay skates along on the reasoning that Farrow may be deluded. Given the exactitude of her recollections as well as the remarks made by Allen in the nineties about her–“She’s such a great little kid!”–and abundant evidence regarding his overly close relation, she remains eminently believable.
    You also find it strange that an artist’s personal life may be repugnant while his creations are marvelous. From Oscar Wilde to Charlie Chaplin to James Levine to Albert Einstein to Roman Polanski . . . I won’t be able to make a complete list here.

    1. On the contrary, there are dozens of documented cases of confabulated memories of child abuse. No one need be at fault when such memories are confabulated: it needn’t be case that anyone is a monster, or that anyone manipulated anyone else.

      My only comment on the court documents is that judges are not experts in psychology. Recall the voluminous evidence that many hundreds of people have been wrongfully convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony. In none of the cases was the judge able to tell that the testimony was unreliable. I see no reason to think that the judge was especially reliable in this case.

  4. @melpub millions of adult men have very: intense relationships with their little girls. Most men restrain themselves from showing all their feelings. It can be intense without being the least bit sexual. She was his first kid and he saw her how often? You are way off about memory.

  5. Wa was; obsessed with 17 yr olds not seven yr olds. 17 yr olds are at the peak of their fertility and rich and famous men get the most attractive females even if they have to overcome social norms. Case closed.

  6. And then there’s the research of Elizabeth Loftus that’s become so increasingly successful over the years. What began as 8-9% as reported by the NYT and LA Times in 1994 has magically risen to 30% can be led to confabulate in this Practical Ethics report.

    1. Susan, it may surprise you to discover that the NYT and the LA Times are not regarded as definitive sources for scientific information. I suggest you look at the peer reviewed literature instead.

  7. Whatever the judge decided, a judge is only human – and, hence, just as vulnerable to all the abuse hysteria around at the time as was everybody else.

  8. In the late 1970s a UK university conducted an experiment.
    They put 20 volunteers of all ages and race on a London tube train for a 40 minute journey.
    The researchers asked each one to make mental notes of any subsequent travelers ( another 10 volunteers) , the physical descriptions and personal thoughts about those who joined the journey, in order to fill in a questionairre later.
    Their findings were extraordinary. Virtually not one of the volunteers agreed with each other as to their memories of those who joined the journey.
    Such examples were an elderly lady thinking a young black man who joined the carriage as being rather menacing looking while a young white girl thought he was rather ‘hip’ in his looks, a young black female teenager thought he was extremely good looking.
    A scruffy white male teen joined the carriage. An older businessman thought he was ‘typical scruffy youth of today”, probably jobless while the older lady threatened by the young black man assumed he was a student on his way to classes. She even surmised he may be studying medicine.
    When a suited middle aged businessman entered the carriage the older lady felt a sense of ‘safeness’. A young white male student thought he was possibly a banker- he looked too prosperous- and probably a crooked one at that because his clothes were obviously Savile Row. Several others had no recollection of the man nor did they remember 2 middle aged ladies that got on and off after a few stops.
    Few agreed on later physical descriptions with height differences ranging from 5’6 to 6’0 for the same man or huge weight discrepancies for the same man or woman.

    The final result- after one hour basically few questionairres could exactly identify the majority of fellow volunteers who had joined the journey although some were spot on.

    it’s not just memory that plays tricks but there are a host of conditioning factors.

    It’s an experiment that any university should do again.

  9. Allen was not shy about his feelings. He let the police see the therapist notes for his entire life. He was in constant therapy. Children depend on memerizing adults with cuteness . That is how they trick us into feeding them. I’m a normal adult male and little kids bring out very: intense feeling.
    If you are around kids all the time you become desensitized but if you have not seen a kid for along time and suddenly encounter them the power of cuteness can overwhelm you.

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