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Fear can be erased from the brain before its memory has been formed

October 19, 2012

An old saying tells us not to dwell on an unpleasant event. A new clinical study suggests the saying has both psychological and neurological support for its validity.

Along with his advisors, Thomas Ågren – a doctoral candidate in psychology at Uppsala University in Sweden – has shown that it is possible to erase newly formed emotional memories from the human brain.

There are two forms (at least) of memory, short-term and long-term. Short-term memory keeps a very small amount of information, about the seven digits of a telephone number, at your fingertips for a brief period – typically less than a minute. Long-term memory, on the other hand, seems to store nearly unlimited amounts of information for years or decades.

A long-term memory of an experience, however, is not formed immediately upon the fading of the experience from short-term memory. The information is slowly consolidated into long-term (potentially lifelong) storage over time. This is why some drugs or experiences (such as a concussion) are associated with a period of amnesia – their effects stop the consolidation process cold, so the memory is lost.

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