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How Memories Be Intentionally Forgotten, Erased

First Posted: May 09, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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Often you hear people say: 'Forget you heard that'. However, they do not literally mean it. But a recent study revealed that a person can actually stop himself from remembering at least on a smaller scale.

A new study from Dartmouth University and Princeton University, according to a news article on Popular Science, had found out that memories can intentionally be forgotten by simply altering the way a person thinks about the context he or she first experienced them in. The findings of the study could even form the basis of mental healthcare, which reduce traumatic memories in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A number of theories, moreover, put forward that context forms an integral part of the way human beings organize and store memories. Early research suggested that when context cues were added to the process, memorization of nonsense syllables was improved dramatically. Also, a way to improve exam scores often used is the 'state-dependent learning' as cited on Wired.

The study, which was published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, shows how researchers employed an fMRI in tracking context-related memories. Images of forests, mountains and beaches were shown to the respondents who were asked to study two lists of random words. One group was required to forget the first list, while the other group was asked to remember the first list.

"We used fMRI to track how much people were thinking of scene-related things at each moment during our experiment," said Jeremy Manning, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth and lead author of the study. "That allowed us to track, on a moment-by-moment basis, how those scene or context representations faded in and out of people's thoughts over time," Manning further explained.

As soon as the first group was instructed to forget, the fMRI then showed that they 'flushed out' the context-dependent memories. "It's like intentionally pushing thoughts of your grandmother's cooking out of your mind if you don't want to think about your grandmother at that moment," Manning said. "We were able to physically measure and quantify that process using brain data," she added.

These findings could definitely aid us in understanding how people remember rather than how people forget according to Manning. The results could be used in treating people who regularly experience flashbacks to traumatic events. "Or we might want to get old information out of our heads so we can focus on learning something new," Manning concluded.

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