In laboratory settings, scientists created a fearful memory in the minds of volunteers and then erased it, opening new possibilities for the treatment of anxiety-related conditions. The experiment involved the establishment of a fearful memory by associating a picture with an electric shock. Thus when the picture was shown without the shock, volunteers remembered the shock and became afraid of the picture. In an experimental group, when the picture was presented over and over as part of a reconsolidation process, the volunteers did not express feeling afraid and the memory left the part of the brain that registers fear.
What’s the Big Idea?
The study reveals the malleability of our memories, which we often mistake for being photographic records of what actually happened. Instead, long-term memories are created through a process of consolidation. In other words, “it can be said that we are not remembering what originally happened, but rather what we remembered the last time we thought about what happened.” Ultimately, the findings of the new research may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks.