A recent study by Thomas Ågren, 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.
Without going into the details of the study, what the researchers found was that we form long term memories based on consolidation, and when we recall things from our past that memory actually becomes unstable for a bit of time, then we consolidate again, and the memory once again becomes unstable.
That’s because we aren’t actually remembering what happened. Rather we are remembering our memory from the last time we thought about the memory we are thinking about – does that make sense. Essentially what the study is saying is that we are constantly rebuilding that memory based on the emotional attachment to that memory.
What the Study Found
In the study, the experimental group was not able to recall the fear memory, previously connected with the picture. What the research discovered is that if the reconsolidation process is disrupted, then the emotional memory is forgotten and essentially erased from the person’s memories.
But why would we want to interfere with our memories? Well there are plenty of times when this could be helpful, specifically after a extremely traumatic event – an accident, a rape, a violent act, or the witnessing of any of these.
It also has the potential to change the way we treat anxiety, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other related conditions. If doctors had the tools to erase emotional memories that the patient found troubling, that person’s quality of life could be improved.
Deprogramming Fear Based Memories
Of course, there is always the potential for misuse and abuse too. Those in power could use the technique to deprogram or strip someone of their memories. However, the reality is technologies of that type already exist, specifically through the use of drugs, so let’s not focus there.
Brainspotting is a technique that shares many of the principles of this study and assists a person in finding a solution to traumatic events that have occurred in their life. Of course, there are going to be those that continue to worry that this type of research in the wrong hands puts all of us at risk of memory tampering. But the positive benefits far outweigh the potential for negative use.
This research should open new doors for the way other researchers think, and hopefully result in new studies on memory and fear – In turn this research has the potential to be able to help millions around the world that are suffering from some form of PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, and phobeia.
For those people that suffer every day this may be bring some relief that there is light at the end of the tunnel for a healthy happier emotional well-being.