Erasing the Pain of Traumatic Memories Could Become a Reality Soon

pink tree memoryWhat if you could erase your worst memories? Would that be a blessing, or would you be cheating yourself of something valuable? That's what we're wondering since learning that at team of scientists successfully manipulated the memories of their subjects in an exciting experiment.


Okay, I should probably mention that the subjects were mice. Nevertheless, the end game for this experiment is tinkering with the memories of humans, eventually. How do we feel about that?

Neuroscientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and ESPCI ParisTech monitored mice's brain activity as they ran around an "exploration area," tracking what parts of their brains they stored memories of different locations.

Then, when the mice were sleeping, they inserted electrodes into some of the locations of those memories, and in the reward centers of their brains. This turned the neutral memories of certain spots in their exploration area into positive memories. When the mice woke up, they ran directly to those spots, expecting a reward.

Picture it like this: The scientists "tinted" the mice's neutral memories with happy feelings, like you'd tint a white Easter egg pink. (Only it's way, way more complicated than that, obviously.)

It's hoped that doctors may someday be able to treat people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or similar conditions) by turning "off" the negative emotions associated with certain memories.

But don't we need the memory of emotions to learn from the past and move on?

Dr. Charles Figley, Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health at Tulane University and School of Social Work, thinks the approach sounds promising. "They are building a road map of neurological markers to help forget the pain but not the facts," he told The Stir

Desensitization procedures in cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and other approaches not only helps the client eliminate the emotional charge of the traumatic event. Equally importantly, this processing is helps clients address five important questions. It is a learning opportunity as well as a relief from traumatic stress symptoms. The questions are:

What happened?

Why did it happen?

Why did I react as I did at the time of the trauma?

Why have I acted as I have since the trauma?

What if the event happens again? (Will I survive or get worse?)

So desensitizing trauma can actually make learning and moving on easier.

I can see this approach starting with acute cases and eventually become a specialized service open to anyone. Erase your bad memories -- just like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- or at least forget the pain you associate with them. But we're a long ways from that!

Do you know people who might benefit from this treatment, if it ever becomes available? 


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