Subconsciously recalling unwanted memories of tragic events or embarrassing moments is one of the downfalls of having an extremely active mind, but, neuroscientists have discovered a lead to a way that we can deliberately reduce the frequency and severity for random recallings of unwanted memories.
In our everyday lives, our mind goes through the process of recalling memories numerous times. Recalling memory happens when your brain activates a biochemical process that solidifies and reorganizes memory that has been stored from past times. Often times this recalling leads us into trouble. For example, perhaps you’ve been in a terrible car accident and everytime you see the location of that accident or a car that looks like the one you collided with, your mind replays the event over and over in your head. Sometimes, we find ourselves just not wanting to remember certain things like that so we don’t have to relive the pain forever.
Recently, Tracy Wang, a postdoctoral psychology fellow at the University of Texas led a study that began to explore the possibility of training our mind to intentionally forget certain memories. To test the likelihood of being able to do so, 24 people of a random selection were put to the test. They were placed in a brain-imaging machine and shown 200 images of faces and scenes and were asked to identify them as male vs. female and outside vs. inside for a short period of time before they were then asked to either remember or forget the image before them. After all the images had been shown they were given a test with both images that were shown before and some that weren’t and asked to rate how confident they were at having seen them. To get data, they looked at the brain-imaging machines photos and focused on the ventral temporal cortex and sensory cortex, both of which become very active when a person focuses their attention on simple images like the ones shown.
Ultimately, the subjects recalled 50-60% of the images they saw and were asked to remember and successfully forgot 40% of the images they were asked to forget. The brain scans showed that when the subject’s mind was particularly active or inactive, it corresponded with a failed attempt to forget an image telling us that a medium level of attention on a certain thought is ideal for deliberately forgetting unwanted memories, not too little or too much. It is important to note that the study was not entirely conclusive enough to say that it is possible to regularly be able to intentionally forget but that as Lili Sahakyan, a professor of psychology at University of Illinois, says: “memories have to be strengthened before they can be weakened,” but that it is possible to dim memories by substitution, a process used by many therapists that works by linking unwanted memories to other thoughts in order to avoid the random recallings and flashbacks that often lead to cases of PTSD. This study provides the conclusion that “to intentionally forget is to remember differently, on purpose,” and suggests a possibility that deliberately forgetting memories is an activity that we could potentially train our minds to do after more research has been done.
Article: Carey, B. (2019, March 22). Can We Get Better at Forgetting? Retrieved May 20, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/health/memory-forgetting-psychology.html?rref=collection/timestopic/PsychologandPsychologists&action=click&contentCollection=health®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=29&pgtype=collection&login=email&auth=login-email
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