It may soon be possible to learn how to suppress specific memories that we do not wish to remember. A new study has shown that this act might help treat emotionally distressing memories.
However even though it may not be in the ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ style, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder are positive that this could benefit people.
According to cognitive psychology graduate student Brendan Depue, M.A., “Our findings may have implications for therapeutic approaches to disorders involving the inability to suppress emotionally distressing memories and thoughts, including PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), phobias,ruminative depression/anxiety, and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).”
Depue and his colleagues have acknowledged the fact that memory suppression as well as the manipulation of memory has been considered as rather controversial topics in the arena of psychology for the last ten years.
However, they pursued their project and went ahead to study memory suppression in 16 women aged 19-29.
First, the researchers showed the women images of other women’s faces. The faces, displayed in pairs, depicted neutral or negative facial expressions. The women memorized the picture pairs. Then the researchers shuffled the pictures and showed the jumbled images to the women.
In some cases, the researchers asked the women to remember which face originally went with which image. But in other instances, they challenged the women to suppress those memories and deliberately not recall the original picture pairs. Memory suppression took some practice, but it worked.
Meanwhile, the women got their brains scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).The brain scans showed that different areas of the brain were active when the women remembered the facial pairs, compared with when the women suppressed those memories.
The memory suppression technique needs refinement, but once that happens, “manipulating emotional memory might be an exciting and fruitful development in future clinical research,” writes Depue and colleagues.