Researchers at Uppsala University found that emotional memories that involved things like fear or stress can be permanently erased from the brain.
The research may herald a new path in treating phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders based on negative experiences earlier in life.
"Ultimately the new findings 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," said study author Thomas Agren, according to Red Orbit.
Long-term memory is created through the formation of proteins in the brain, said PTI, and is constantly reaffirmed by bringing the memory to mind in a kind of lengthy consolidation process.
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When remembering things, we don't remember the original but rather our memory of the memory.
The study worked to disrupt this consolidation process.
Researchers showed volunteers a neutral picture while immediately giving them an electrical shock, which made the picture eventually elicit fear.
The scientists worked to block this fearful memory by then continually showing the picture without the shock to one group but continued the shocks with the other group, albeit with a short delay in between to let consolidation occur, reported PsychCentral.
Using a skin conductance test, the researchers could gauge who felt fear.
The first group eventually lost their fear of the picture, while the second group continued to show fear.
This means that getting rid of bad memories can only be done immediately after that memory occurs.
Yet, there is hope this process can be accomplished for memories that go farther back.
“These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear,” said Agren, reported Red Orbit.
The study was published in the journal Science