Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain, research has shown.
In 2013, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden, demonstrated that it is possible to erase newly formed emotional memories. When a person learns something, a lasting, long-term memory is created with the aid of a consolidation process, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then re-stabilized by another consolidation process.
So in fact, we are not remembering what originally happened, but instead what we remembered the previous time we thought about what occurred. What this suggests is that by disrupting the reconsolidating process, the content memory can be affected.
In the study, subjects were shown a neutral picture and at the same time were given an electric shock. The picture on it’s was neutral, but when coupled with the electric shock it elicited fear, so a fear memory was created in the subject.
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To reactivate this fear memory, the picture was then shown without a shock. For one experimental group, the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture. For a control group, the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated views of the picture.
In the group that was not forced to recall the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the image had dissipated. SO by disrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was neutralized and no longer create a fear response. Using a MR-scanner, researchers showed that traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories.
So, our fears can be erased: All it takes is allowing the fear memory to consolidate without repeatedly forcing a recall of the fear memory. Eventually any fear can dissipate.