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You can forget an unhappy past

US Researchers have confirmed what common wisdom has long held — that people can suppress emotionally troubling memories — and said that they have sketched out how the brain accomplishes this, writes Ishani Ganguli.

entertainment Updated: Jul 14, 2007 02:37 IST
Ishani Ganguli

US Researchers have confirmed what common wisdom has long held — that people can suppress emotionally troubling memories — and said that they have sketched out how the brain accomplishes this.

They said their findings might lead to a way to help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety to gain control of debilitating memories.

“You’re shutting down parts of the brain that are responsible for supporting memories,” Brendan Depue, a neuroscience doctoral student at the University of Colorado who worked on the study, said. He said his team discovered the brain’s emotional center is also shut down.

For their study, Depue and colleagues taught 18 adult volunteers to associate pictures of human faces with pictures of car crashes or wounded soldiers. They were then shown each face a dozen times and asked to either remember or forget the troubling image associated with each one. When they worked to block a particular negative image, then looked at the face one last time, they could no longer name its troubling pair in about half of the trials, Depue and his colleagues reported in Friday’s issue of Science.

The researchers used a brain imaging method called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, which shows the brain’s activity in real time, to track what was going on in the brain. They got usable data on 16 people.

In the test, parts of each volunteer’s prefrontal cortex — the brain’s control center for complex thoughts and actions — were activated.

This seemed to direct a decrease of activity in the visual cortex, where images are usually processed. The hippocampus, where memories are formed and retrieved, and amygdala, the emotion hub, were later also deactivated.

The research is still far from being translated to the psychiatrist’s office, Depue and others acknowledged.