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How To Erase Memories From Brain

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Study Reaches Repressed Memories For New Mental Health Therapies

Is It Possible To Erase Your Memories?

Scientists believe suppressed memories are created by a process called state-dependent learning. When the brain creates memories in a certain mood or state, particularly of stress or trauma, those memories become inaccessible in a normal state of consciousness. Suppressed memories can then best be retrieved when the brain is back in that state. For the first time, a new study from Northwestern Medicine has discovered how the brain locks those memories away.

Finding The Mechanism In Mice

Northwestern Medicine scientists, led by Dr. Radulovic, used mice in their study of repressed memories. The team gave the mice gaboxadol, a drug that stimulates receptors associated with hidden memories, to change their brain state.

The mice were then put in a box and given a brief, mild shock. The next day, when the mice were returned to the same box, they moved freely and without fear indicating to the scientists that they did not recall the earlier shock. However, when the scientists gave the mice the drug again, returning them to the previous mental state, the mice froze in fear when in the box. The scientists concluded that only when the mice were returned to the brain state in which they experienced stress did they remember that experience.

Scientists Reveal How To Erase Painful Memories

Memory-zapping devices like those in “Men in Black” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” could soon be a thing of the past , as researchers have now discovered a much cheaper and less complicated way to erase unwanted memories. According to a new study that appears in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, the key to forgetting could lie in simply changing the way we think about the context surrounding our memories.

Context is quite a broad thing that can be hard to pin down. Essentially, it refers to everything else thats going on around a particular event, and, according to the study authors, has a huge influence over how memories are organized and retrieved by the brain. For example, if you happen to have a bad experience after drinking too much tequila , then its likely that the very thought of taking another shot of the stuff will dig up unpleasant memories of that experience.

While youll probably only have yourself to blame for getting too drunk and putting yourself in a particular spirit, people who experience more serious distressing events can sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder , whereby certain contextual cues cause them to relive painful memories. If sufferers can learn to dissociate these memories from their context, however, it may be possible to alleviate their PTSD.

People who experience distressing events often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. John Gomez/Shutterstock

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How To Purposefully Forget Things

This article was co-authored by Allison Broennimann, PhD. Dr. Allison Broennimann is a licensed Clinical Psychologist with a private practice based in the San Francisco Bay Area providing psychotherapy and neuropsychology services. With over a decade of experience, Dr. Broennimann specializes in in-depth psychotherapy to provide solution-focused treatments for anxiety, depression, relationship problems, grief, adjustment problems, traumatic stress, and phase-of-life transitions. And as part of her neuropsychology practice, she integrates depth psychotherapy and cognitive rehabilitation for those recovering after traumatic brain injury. Dr. Broennimann holds a BA in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MS and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Palo Alto University. She is licensed by the California Board of Psychology and is a member of the American Psychological Association.There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 2,303,756 times.

What Is Decoded Neurofeedback

The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever

While our brains may feel like a static lump of matter reclining in our skulls, theyâre actually an incredibly active power-center of the body shooting off electric signals for every movement we make or stimulus we encounter. Aurelio Cortese, a computational neuroscientist and principal investigator of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Labs, tells Inverse that itâs these signals that scientists are taking advantage of when doing DecNef.

âOne of the main goals is to reduce the impact of traumatic memories, or of phobic items.â

âIn we use neuroimaging data,â explains Cortese. âA big magnet that scans our brain, and measures changes in the levels of oxygen in the cerebral blood. This data is then processed in real-time through a local computer, that selects the data from the relevant brain area.â

In addition to his contributions to a number of DecNef studies, he worked on a recent dataset review in the journal Scientific Data.

This big magnet is part of an fMRI machine, a large tunnel-like machine similar to a CAT scan machine you might see at a hospital. Collecting fMRI data is nothing unusual, but whatâs different about DecNef, Cortese says, is the use of machine learning to extract and re-target specific patterns of neural activity.

â participants receive a small reward every time a target activation pattern in their brain is detected,â he says. âIt aims to give participants control over some specific brain processes.â

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Shaheen Lakhan Md Phd Faan

Many techniques to ‘forget a bad memory’ stem from gradually disassociating the memory from its negative emotional basis.

Researchers have long been seeking ways to help people intentionally forget. While it is not likely that you’ll be able to remove unwanted memories from your brain, you can employ strategies to prevent the memory from disrupting your life.

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Forty-two people took part in the new study. All had severe depression. This disease leaves people feeling sad and hopeless, and they often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Doctors were already treating these study participants with electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. It delivers an electrical jolt to the brain.

Scientists knew ECT can muddle a patients memory. But the new study shows a way to turn that side effect into a benefit. Doctors found they could target which details were forgotten by timing the treatment to occur shortly after those details had been recalled.

We are starting to understand the process, to some extent, Marijn Kroes told Science News. Kroes is a neuroscientist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands who worked on the new study. It was published December 30 in Nature Neuroscience. Its findings represent a first step toward helping people, he says. However, he adds: We are a very long way away from treating patients.

And thats precisely what the researchers attempted to do. They looked to change that recalled memory with ECT.

People who did not get ECT remembered details of both stories fairly well. Patients whose brains were zapped as part of the treatment remembered details of only one story well. It was the one they had not been thinking about just before the treatment.

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Replace Bad Memories With New Memories

If you can fill up your mind with positive new experiences, you will help push a bad memory away. Your new memories will take the place of old memories that you want to forget. To do this you can try many different things, like getting involved with a new group of people, taking up a new hobby, becoming entrenched in arts and literature, or even landing a new job. You can help your mind stay focused on new endeavors which will certainly stifle bad memories from the past.

Perform A Ritual Release

How To Erase Bad Memories

A ritual release is essentially a cathartic exercise within your mind that helps you let go of a bad memory. To execute a ritual release, you have to imagine your bad memory as a still photograph. Add details to the photograph with all of the negative memories from the traumatic experience you wish to forget. Next, set the photograph on fire in your mind. Watch the photo singe and burn. Watch the edges curl up and turn to ash. Watch the memory burn away until the last shred of the photograph is gone.

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New Neurons And Old Memories

Another cellular process that seems to cause its own form of forgetting is neurogenesis, the birth of new neurons in the brain.

The connection of neurogenesis to memory and forgetting is complicated. Previous studies have shown that neurogenesis can be important to the formation of new memories: In tests on lab animals, drugs that inhibit neurogenesis in the hippocampus can interfere with new memory formation, and drugs that enhance neurogenesis seem to help with learning new tasks if they are given before the learning process.

But the effects arent all positive for memory, as Paul Frankland, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children, and his colleagues discovered while working with mice.

In their experiment, they first allowed the mice to create a memory by training at a task. Hours later, with drugs, they raised the level of neurogenesis in the animals to test whether the integration of new neurons in the hippocampus would affect the stability of that already stored memory. When Franklands team tested the mice about a month later, their recall of the training was much worse than that of mice that had not had the later neurogenesis boost.

How To Forget Things On Purpose

There are many reasons you might want to forget a memory. Some memories can make you cringe with embarrassment, while others may be more distressing or traumatic. Maybe you just don’t want to be reminded of certain people or things from the past as you go about your day.

For some, memories fade away with time. However, especially if you have an anxiety condition such as social anxiety disorder or a trauma-related disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder , it may feel like you’re constantly reliving moments from the past that you’d rather forget. For some, the sudden reappearance of certain memories can be deeply disturbing or even debilitating.

This article discusses some of the steps you can take if you want to forget a memoryor lessen its impact, at least.

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Can Decoded Neurofeedback Erase Our Bad Memories

Despite their incorporeal form, memories have a way of becoming a very real part of our identity, like the pattern of freckles on your face or your favorite jacket might.

Remembering a childhood friend while gazing off at a field of dandelions may be pleasant, but being sucked back into a bad memory â a difficult breakup or a traumatizing loss â can be unbearable.

But what if, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we could simply erase those memories? Itâs something being explored, but Philipp Kellmeyer, a neurologist and head of the Neuroethics & A.I. Ethics Lab at the University of Freiburg, has several concerns. High among them is identity.

âTargeted elimination or inception of memories for purposes other than medical treatment obviously entails huge ethical problems,â Kellmeyer tells Inverse, â the possibility for interfering with a person’s identity … or instrumentalizing individuals by using false memory inception to influence their behavior.â

While many of these painful memories do fade with time, particularly painful ones can leave a lasting mark in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder and make seemingly innocuous aspects of daily life difficult to manage.

It could be the road to healing for countless PTSD sufferers â at least, if the technology is in the right hands.

Johns Hopkins Researchers Discover How To Erase Memory

Shock Therapy Can

Researchers working with mice have discovered that by removing a protein from the region of the brain responsible for recalling fear, they can permanently delete traumatic memories. Their report on a molecular means of erasing fear memories in rodents appears this week in Science Express.

When a traumatic event occurs, it creates a fearful memory that can last a lifetime and have a debilitating effect on a persons life, says Richard L. Huganir, Ph.D., professor and director of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Our finding describing these molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in that process raises the possibility of manipulating those mechanisms with drugs to enhance behavioral therapy for such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Hint: It’s All In Your Head No Expensive Gadgets Needed

Ever wish you could banish a painfully embarrassing moment from your brain forever? Good news! Now you can actually trick yourself into erasing a memory, science says.

Experts call this mind hack synaptic pruning, but Fast Company dubbed it a delete button for short. So, how does it work? Imagine your brain as a garden, where synaptic connections between neurons grow instead of flowers or vegetables. As you learn and experience things, your brain builds more and more neurological connections.

Glial cells are the gardeners of your brain, Fast Company says they both speed up the signals between neurons as well as erase the ones that are no longer needed. Your brain does all of this while you sleep, creating more space in your brain to build new and stronger connections in the future. Hence the reason why a good, deep nights sleep is so important.

ESB Professional/shutterstock

While we wont get too much into the weeds on that topic here, the fact of the matter is this: Experts say that you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. Since the unused synaptic connections get chucked, what you think about the most will stick around. Focusing most of your thoughts on the necessary stuffa happy memory or an upcoming testwill increase the likelihood that you remember it down the road. That also explains why things you havent thought about in years might as well be a foreign language now.

Moving Into Clinical Trials Explore Underlying Mechanisms Or Be Cautious Of Ethical Problems

Based on these past studies, the use of ECT treatment to free PTSD patients from their devastating and painful memories seems promising. With inventions such as ultrabrief pulse width , nowadays, ECT treatment is no longer as frightening as it used to be. Considering that knowledge and acceptance of ECT are growing in the general population, we can imagine that in the near future, there will be an increasing number of clinical trials with attempts to use ECT to treat people with PTSD. ECT is still not perfect. Scientists are still trying to improve and perfect memory reactivation techniques, treatment frequency, and length. However, as it stands, ECT is an incredibly promising choice for psychological treatment.

Moreover, these ECT studies may help neuroscientists understand how memories are formed in the brain. Based on several significant researchpapers also published around 2014, scientists now know that memories can be stored in certain neural cells or their connections. However, what happens to these cells and their connections during memory reactivation and ECT is still mysterious. One can only imagine how our memories are created, retrieved, and recreated in our mysterious brain.

Xiaomeng Han is a second year graduate student in the Harvard PhD Program in Neuroscience. She uses electron microscopy to study neuronal connectivity.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  • Katherine L 23 Oct 2014Reply

    if they erase painful ones, they can still erase memories and probably more. This is not an area I would trust anyone in. Too many scientist playing god , they clone, they hybrid, etc and their ethics are very questionable.

  • Sherrie 1 Jan 2019Reply


    This reminds me of Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie starring Jim Carey and Kate Winslet. If you havent viewed this movie, then maybe you can watch it some time. It really approaches the idea of erasing memories and then regretting the act. I agree, we should think carefully about this type of science.

  • How To Erase Bad Memories

    Would you remove unwanted memories from your brain?

    Ill never forget it. They strapped electrodes to my wrist, cranked up a black dial on a frightening electronic device encrusted with switches and knobs, and shocked me repeatedly with jolts of electricity.

    • Print

    Ill never forget it. They strapped electrodes to my wrist, cranked up a black dial on a frightening electronic device encrusted with switches and knobs, and shocked me repeatedly with jolts of electricity. No, this was not torture and the memory is not a traumatic one. I was inside the laboratory of Dr. Daniela Schiller, a psychologist at Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York City, experiencing the same treatment that she and her coworkers used to discover a new way to alter traumatic memories. The latest research from her team provides a method to blot out traumatic memories that are stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala, not just suppress them as current treatments for PTSD do, but to alter the memory itself.

    New research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports a new discovery of how the brain records and regulates threatening memories. To understand this new finding, it is helpful to know more about threat memories and how PTSD, panic attacks, and other anxiety disorders are treated currently.

    Treating anxiety disorders

    Rather than suppress the fear, it would be better to break the connection in memory between the bombing incident and the normal experience of riding in a car.

    Memory track overdub


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