Memory study shows how people can intentionally forget past experiences
News Medical Life Sciences and Medicine
Published on May 6, 2016
Context plays a big role in our memories, both good and bad. Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" on the car radio, for example, may remind you of your first love -- or your first speeding ticket. But a Dartmouth- and Princeton-led brain scanning study shows that people can intentionally forget past experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.
The findings have a range of potential applications centered on enhancing desired memories, such as developing new educational tools, or diminishing harmful memories, including treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The study appears in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. A PDF is available on request.
Since Ancient Greece, memory theorists have known that we use context -- or the situation we're in, including sights, sounds, smells, where we are, who we are with -- to organize and retrieve our memories. But the Dartmouth- and Princeton-led team wanted to know whether and how people can intentionally forget past experiences. They designed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment to specifically track thoughts related to memories' contexts, and put a new twist on a centuries-old psychological research technique of having subjects memorize and recall a list of unrelated words. In the new study, researchers showed participants images of outdoor scenes, such as forests, mountains and beaches, as they studied two lists of random words, manipulating whether they were told to forget or remember the first list prior to studying the second list.
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There is a long list of times when I almost died and a few others when it was not a matter of I could have died, but I should have died according to doctors treating me. The first time I heard those words I was only five after a series of things going wrong. Long story short, another kid pushed me off a slide. Not down it, but over the side of it at a drive-in movie. When my older brother found me, he thought I was dead but I was just knocked out. At the hospital, the doctor read the X-ray wrong and missed the crack in my scull and she also missed the signs of a concussion. She told my parents to take me home and let me get a good night sleep. Worst thing to do with a concussion and head trauma. The next day I was rushed to another hospital because my eyelid was swollen and I had a hard time talking. Turned out the doctor couldn't figure out why I was still alive.
The next time it was eight months after my daughter was born. I walked around with an infection that was not treated properly and my system turned septic. My doctor said he had never seen a bacteria count that high on a live patient and he was not sure why I was still alive.
Other times when stuff tried to end me included a violent alcoholic Dad up until I was thirteen and an ex-husband who tried to kill me, car accident and other health problems and then the usual bad memories of losing people I loved.
Every memory is tied to my soul/spirit but none of them have control over my life simply because I made peace with all of them while they are still a part of who I am today. The only way to make peace with the things that I survived was to forgive when someone did it to me and view the rest of the things as surviving them.
Making peace with each time was not easy but it was harder to go through them than to deal with them.
Even after all these years, going to a hospital will bring back memories of being a patient in them. Seeing a movie with a drive-in movie as a location brings back the memory of the night going from being a family night out to one of the worst nights of my life. It set off a chain of events including my Dad going from drinking some beers into a full-blown rage filled alcoholic blaming everyone including himself for my close call with death. He especially blamed my older brother for letting me get away from him. A very heavy burden to place on a twelve year old.
My Mom and my brothers never forgave him for the way he was during all those years even when he went to AA and got sober. They hung onto all the negative memories and it ate at their souls robbing them from all the good feelings that could have replaced the bad ones.
Until researchers stop thinking about our brains as if they are simply a super computer with files they can delete, they will never figure out a way to properly treat us with all that comes with that is tied to our memories.