Can Memories Be Forgotten Intentionally? Study Says Yes

By Elizabeth Anderson, Parent Herald May 07, 05:00 am

We can intentionally forget our past experiences by changing how we think about their context, according to a study led by researchers from Dartmouth College and Princeton University. The study was published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

The researchers conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, according to Science Daily. This was used to keep an eye on thoughts related to the context of memories.

The participants of the study were shown images of outdoor scenes like beaches, forests and mountains while they were studying two lists of random words. Some participants were told to forget the random words presented to them in between images while some were asked to remember them. 

Forgetting Memories Means Flushing Out Context

Once the participants of the study were asked to forget, the fMRI showed that they "flushed out" the scene-related activity from their brains, reported NDTV. "It's like intentionally pushing thoughts of your grandmother's cooking out of your mind if you don't want to think about your grandmother at that moment," study lead author Jeremy Manning said.

The opposite happened when the participants were asked to remember the random words. The flushing out of scene related activity from the brain did not happen.

Forgetting Memories Offers Many Possibilities

"Our hope was the scene images would bias the background, or contextual, thoughts that people had as they studied the words to include scene-related thoughts," Manning said via EurekAlert. Manning is an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College.

EurekAlert said that the study's results have many potential application on enhancing desired memories. This includes diminishing harmful memories like post-traumatic stress disorder treatments and the development of new educational tools.

Do you believe the results of the study? Share your thoughts below.

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