Emotional memories that are recently formed can be erased from the human brain.
A new study by Thomas Agren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology, under the observation of Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark, has indicated that it is possible to erase newly formed emotional memories from the brain. This finding, published in Science, brings scientists a huge step forward in future research on memory and fear.
An enduring long-term memory is formed when individuals take in new information by using the process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we recall an event, a place, or anything from our past, the memory becomes unstable for a while. Another consolidation process begins, and the memory is restabilized.
This is because we are not remembering what originally happened, but instead, recalling what we remembered the previous time we thought about what happened, the authors explained.
Memory content can be impacted by interrupting the reconsolidation process that occurs after remembrance.
The participants in the study were shown a neutral picture, while given an electric shock at the same time. This was done so that the picture came to elicit fear, meaning a the subjects formed a fear memory. The picture was then displayed without any shock in order to activate the fear memory.
The reconsolidation process was disrupted in one experimental group by repeatedly showing presentations of the image. A control group was also observed, where the reconsolidation process was finished before the volunteers were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.
In turn, the experimental group was not able to reconsolidate the fear memory, the fear they had previously connected with the picture dissipated.
The findings suggest that by disrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was made neutral and no longer associated with fear. The scientists used a MR-scanner, which proved that the traces of that memory was no longer in the part of the brain that usually stores fearful memories, the nuclear group of amygdala in the temporal lobe.
Thomas Ågren concluded:
"These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks."
Written by Sarah Glynn
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Does that count?
posted by fred on 17 Jan 2013 at 8:17 pm
An MR scanner is a structural test. It's not possible to detect brain activity with a device that is typically used by engineers to inspect dams for cracks.
If it was an F-MRI scanner (a Functional-MRI), then I would say that detects bloodflow, and is not reliable or accurate enough to perform the claimed task.
I don't see how this would have utility outside something like PTSD if it did work, that would require the assumption that mental illness does not involve any separate malfunction(s) that disrupt information processing as a system in the brain.
In any any case, it looks to me like participants simply learned they wouldn't be shocked every-time the image appeared and their fear dissipated. That doesn't mean a memory was deleted, and implies memories were added. This seems more consistent with what they were actually measuring, which was probably the brain activity of a startle response itself.
There was a real science experiment I read not long ago that was cool. Rats were conditioned with similar fear response, and then administered a drug that inhibited protein synthesis in the brain. Upon recalling the event that they were conditioned with the mice actually permanently lost the behavior. The proteins involved in storing memories were actually inhibited and the mice actually forgot everything they tried to remember because the memories could not be recouped during exposure to the drug.
It was awesome. However, the experiment was never tried on humans because the drug used was not necessarily safe. That's actually what i thought this experiment initially was. Oh well!
As far as I know, with the exception of Hollywood movies, you can't ERASE memories. You CAN change how they are AFFECTING you in the present by changing how your RE-present them in your mind. Keeping the lessons and removing the automatic negative reactions is what good cognitive therapy is all about, i.e., hypnosis, NLP, REBT, tapping (EFT), etc.
All they are doing is creating a new memory, that thinking about the old one will cause pain. We learn from experiences, erasing them is nonsense. What do you learn from having a permanent memory of pain? You lear nthat remembering anything is painful, it is not always painful it is important to gleen the learning experience. Soon you will lose all short term memory of you practice this nonsense for too long. What a waste.
This sounds very similar to the "anchoring" technique used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which also stems from Ivan Pavlov's original work with dogs and linking the ringing of a bell to eating meat.
There are several NLP anchoring (and other) techniques used to create new/different associations to things (memories, sounds, sights, feelings) so as to change the response to something less painful and more desirable.
Someone needs to combine NLP and similar cognitive therapy techniques with the new technology (fMRI, etc.) to prove and improve the techniques.
posted by edward dellinger on 22 Sep 2012 at 9:43 am
The results coincide with previous research by others findings whereas: extreme emotional fear related happenings hide in the Unconscious. Ata later date, a mature individual can by revisiting the event, see the emotion as ineffectual. The memory of the incident, will however last a lifetime. This personal persistent focusing, could relieve the individual for a more pleasant state of mind on that issue. E A Dellinger
My Question is Why? Re: Emotional Memories Can Be Erased From Our Brains
posted by LittleStream on 22 Sep 2012 at 9:04 am
We should be learning from our history, why would we want to alter it? Even difficult events like rape, domestic violence can teach us what to avoid in the future. I worked with a really excellent psychologist who helped me manage PTSD, but it didn't change the cause of it.
As a military veteran, I'd love to see if this process could be applied to willing veterans that would like to extinguish certain circumstances that they were exposed to. I agree with the above mentioned concerns, however in certain cases I believe the benefits may outweigh the risks. The Department of Veteran Affairs can't keep up with the amout of mental health cases, perhaps in the future this research could be applied to our service members prior to exit from their respective branch.
Interesting research - Re: Emotional Memories Can Be Erased From Our Brains
posted by Tonya on 22 Sep 2012 at 6:23 am
This is an interesting article. Brainspotting uses many of the same principles. As a mental health clinician I feel research like this can assist in moving techniques such as brainspotting and EMDR both of which work to help individual deal with and find some resolution to traumatic events/memories, into regular practice.
'Emotional Memories Can Be Erased From Our Brains'
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