Getting rid of memories that trigger fear boils down to the right timing, according to a new study.
Marie Monfils, assistant psychology professor at Texas University, Austin, has identifed key time when memories are ripe for change, especially converting fearful memories into pleasant ones.
Monfils conducted the study with colleagues at New York University where she was a post-doctoral researcher.
The experiment began by inducing fear in rats by sounding a tone and then shocking them under the feet. Eventually, the rat would exhibit fear from just hearing the tone.
The standard treatment for getting rid of the fear response is to sound the tone repeatedly, without a shock. Eventually, the rat does not exhibit fear at the sound. The method is called extinction, said a Texas release.
She said the findings might find their way into treating humans with anxiety disorders. "But we have a lot more work to do before we actually get there," she said.
Current treatments are short lived in effects and some of them include drugs, many of which would be hard to administer locally in humans and have harmful side-effects.
The study was published this week in Science Express.