Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain
Thomas Ågren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology, under the observation of Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark, has conducted a study that showed that it is possible to erase newly formed emotional memories from the brain. The discovery was published in Science magazine. It will help scientists a lot in their future research on memory and fear.
The results coincide with a previous research, according to which, memories of fear can be turned into good memories when they are ready for change, and can be kept way.
An enduring long-term memory is formed when people assimilate new information through the process of consolidation, which is triggered by the formation of proteins. When we think of an event, a place, or anything from our past, the memory becomes unstable for a while. Then another consolidation process begins, and, as a result, the memory is stabilized again.
The authors explained that the reason for that is the fact that we are not remembering what actually happened. Instead, we are recalling what we remembered the previous time we thought about what happened.
Memory content can be influenced as we interrupt the reconsolidation process that occurs after remembrance.
A neutral picture was shown to the participants in the study, while they were given an electric shock at the same time. In this way the picture came to arouse fear and the subjects formed a fear memory. The picture was then showed again without any shock in order to activate the fear memory.
The reconsolidation process was interrupted in one experimental group. It was done by repeatedly displaying presentations of the image. A control group was also observed, where the reconsolidation process was completed before the respondents were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.
As a result, the subjects from the experimental group were not able to reconsolidate the fear memory because the fear they had previously associated with the picture dissipated.
The results indicate that by interrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was made neutral and no longer associated with fear. The scientists used a MR-scanner, which showed that the traces of that memory were no longer in the part of the brain that usually stores fearful memories.
In conclusion, Thomas Ågren said that these results may be a big step forward in research on memory and fear because they 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.