In the science fiction movie Men in Black, agents K and J were able to “clear” the memory of the unfortunate witnesses, thanks to a flash produced by a small portable gadget, to protect the secrecy of alien activity on Earth.
Now, in a paper published in the journal Science, we learn that science fiction is not so far from reality. A team of researchers at the University of Uppsala in Sweden claims to have discovered a technique to erase past memories. The official explanation of the finding is the treatment of phobias and post-traumatic stress.
The results are a significant step forward in memory research. That is, the new findings could improve the intervention methods for millions of patients who suffer from problems such as phobias, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress, says psychologist Thomas Agren.
To understand how the new technique works, it is necessary to understand the mechanism of memory formation. Our intellectual capacity is divided into a short-term and a long-term memory. The formation of long-term memories occurs by means of a consolidation process based on the formation of certain proteins in the brain. The same thing happens when some memories of the past are consolidated in our minds.
The research conducted by the team of the Swedish scientists has allowed them to find a way to stop the process of consolidation, “erasing” the transition of information about experienced events from short-term to long-term memory.
The technique involves using the electroshock therapy on certain brain regions, so it is a highly invasive technique. Using a MRI scanner, the researchers demonstrated that short-term memories disappeared without leaving any trace in the long-term memory.
Still, imagine what would happen if such a therapeutic technique fell into the wrong hands… Since it would be possible to erase any unwanted memory at a simple therapeutic session, it would also provide an opportunity to hide any event even from the people who have experienced it.