It may be possible to erase emotional memory from the brain, explains a study from the Department of Psychology at the Uppsala University in Sweden, if those memories are intercepted during what is known as the reconsolidation process.
According to a report from Medical News Today, a long-term memory is formed through a process called consolidation. When a memory is recalled, it becomes temporarily unstable and must be reconsolidated to ensure it continues to be remembered. Study authors claim this reconsolidation must occur because the memory is being recalled from its last moment of previous recollection, rather than from the event itself.
If this memory reconsolidation process is interrupted, the emotional memory may be able to be erased or neutralized.
Emotional memory study
The findings support previous research suggesting fearful or emotional memories can be changed through a method called “extinction.” During the extinction process, mice trained to respond fearfully to a sound stimulus were then desensitized to that same sound after a brief resting interval. It was this resting interval, or window of opportunity, which allowed researchers to modify the memory associated with fear.
“I thought why not try to maximize the strengths of both of these techniques? The concept of extinction and the concept of reconsolidation,” Marie Monfils, an assistant professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin told Medical News Today, “and try to come up with a way to target a memory when it’s weakened, after it’s been retrieved and when it’s in this labile stage and then target it with a standard extinction protocol.”
Monfils’s study paved the way for the latest study, which used human participants who were shown a neutral picture at the same instance they were administered an electric shock. Eventually, the test subjects developed a fear response when seeing the picture, indicating they had developed a memory of fear.
The control group for the study was allowed to complete the reconsolidation process which allowed the memory of fear to remain. For the experimental group, the process was interrupted and the fear associated with the picture eventually vanished. To prove the memory was not stored, the research team used MR imagery to verify activity in the parts of the brain associated with fearful memories.
While the research is in the preliminary stages, experts hope one day emotional memory modification will provide new treatment methods for individuals suffering from panic attacks, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.