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Forgetting Bad Memories

November 7, 2012

The brain has two very different mechanisms for erasing bad memories.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Forgetting bad memories…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

There are two ways to forget bad memories – by suppressing them, or by replacing them with something more pleasant. Both methods are equally effective at burying the past, but they involve opposite brain mechanisms. This according to research by Cambridge neuroscientists Michael Anderson and Roland Benoit. Benoit says a brain region called the hippocampus is very important for memory formation. But when volunteers tried to actively suppress their memories, it was disabled.

ROLAND BENOIT (University of Cambridge):

When people try to slam on the mental brakes to stop the remembering process, the structure effectively gets shut down. And this shutting down seems to be caused by a region in the right prefrontal cortex.

HIRSHON:

In contrast, when volunteers tried to forget by substituting one memory with another, two regions in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain became very active. He says a better understanding of both techniques could help in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

There are some memories that we'd rather forget. (Jupiter Images)