Select What You Forget


Courtesy of Petr Kratochvil.

Arguably everyone has at least one embarrassing moment they never want to be reminded of. And when they happen to recall this, whether intentional or not, they often wish they could simply erase that single memory. Surprisingly, this could be possible through a developing technique known as sound cues very soon
Researchers from the University of York have completed trials that could potentially develop techniques that would allow people to forget specific memories. The technique they used during the tests is called sound cues, which are sounds that play while the subject is sleeping. Former Ph.D. student of the Department of Psychology at the University of York, Dr. Bardur Joensen reported, “Although still highly experimental at this stage, the results of our study raise the possibility that we can both increase and decrease the ability to recall specific memories by playing sound cues when an individual is asleep.”
During the lab, researchers had participants memorize two similar phrases: “hammer – office” and “hammer – Cardi B.” Afterwards, when the participants reached stage-three sleep, commonly known as deep sleep, researchers played a sound associated with only one pair. The results showed that when the participants woke up, their memory of one pair, the one with associated sounds playing during their sleep, had significantly strengthened, while their memory of the other pair noticeably decreased.
It is important to note that deep sleep has been widely known to be “an important stage in the sleep cycle that enables proper brain function and memory,” according to Jon Johnson of Medical News Today. This is an important factor that researchers kept in mind, as they understood that sleep and memory are tied together. With this information, researchers aim to manipulate this process in order to weaken memories. Dr. Aidan Horner, another author of the report who is also from the Department of Psychology at the University of York, said, “The relationship between sleep and memory is fascinating. We know that sleep is critical for memory processing, and our memories are typically better following a period of sleep. The exact mechanisms at play remain unclear, but during sleep, it seems that important connections are strengthened and unimportant ones are discarded.”
Not only can this developing technique be used to erase embarrassing memories, but it can also help people forget traumatic ones. People with PTSD can suffer from nightmares to unwanted flashbacks of a traumatic memory. Dr. Bardur Joensen states, “Though still a long way off, our discovery could potentially pave the way to new techniques for weakening those memories that could be used alongside existing therapies.” With this approach, people with this mental health disorder could live a more comfortable life, likely free of insomnia and severe anxiety.
It is only a matter of time before this new method of therapy will be perfected. Although only in the trials, researchers from the University of York have publicized their amazing results. In the future, people struggling with PTSD could possibly look forward to another way of coping with traumatic memories.