6 July 2011

Forget about it

by Kate Melville

The notion that we can intentionally forget unwanted memories has been controversial ever since Freud proposed it at the beginning of the 20th century. Now, neuroimaging experiments show that Freud was correct and we can control what we forget.

Swedish researcher Gerd Thomas Waldhauser, from Lund University, carried out the experiments with volunteers who were asked to practice forgetting, or, attempting to forget facts. Via EEG measurements, Waldhauser showed that the same parts of the brain are activated when we restrain a motor impulse and when we suppress a memory. And just as we can practice restraining motor impulses, he contends we can also train ourselves to repress memories.

Waldhauser says there are many situations - such as depression or post traumatic stress disorder - in which forgetting could be helpful. But he warns that the possible consequences of the deliberate repression of memories are not clearly understood, adding that; "'forgotten' or repressed feelings often manifest themselves as physiological reactions."

Selective memory erasure achieved
Short-term memory observed in 30-week-old fetuses
Mind-reading through the eyes

Source: Lund University