Editing memories

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2009

Yet again, the line between science fiction and real life gets thinner, and another of our stories gains a slightly prophetic edge.  Richard Kadrey’s Twitter stream alerted me to an article at The Guardian about a therapeutic process whereby traumatic memories can be rewritten or edited in order to make them less debilitating… without the use of drugs. I’m no psychologist, but it reminds me a little bit of the aversion therapy approach:

… 20 volunteers sat in front of a computer screen on which squares of different colours appeared. When blue squares flashed on the screen, they received an electric shock to the wrist.

The next day, the volunteers were shown blue squares again to reactivate the memory. Sensors placed on their skin showed that the images caused the participants to sweat as their stress levels rose.

To erase the memory that linked blue squares with pain, the volunteers were put through “extinction training” which involved flashing blue squares on the screen without the accompanying electrical shocks.

When the volunteers were retested a day later, the fear associated with the squares had gone, but only in participants whose memories were rewritten soon after their fear was reactivated…

In other words, expose the subject to the traumatic memory trigger minus the trauma soon enough after the event, and you can prevent lasting problems. Perhaps this sort of process would be useful for lessening the impact of post-traumatic stress in military personnel on active service? Either which way, it’s reminiscent of Marissa Lingen’s “Erasing The Map”, published here back in February of this year… though Marissa’s story saw memories being deleted rather than edited

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3 Responses to “Editing memories”

  1. Denni says:

    I’m not sure that this has anything to do with memories. It’s classic conditioning and extinction training (animal trainers have used this for decades, using positive reinforcement (reward) linked to a ‘bridge’ signal, such as a whistle or click).

    Real memories are far more complex. In a way they are extinct naturally as a traumatic event tends to be replayed in the brain again and again until the impact finally lessens.

  2. Kevin D says:

    I remember reading about soldiers in Iraq using video games (usually violent) after coming back from combat and findings that this reduced PTSD. Sounds like just what they are talking about here, reenactments of combat without any stress attached. Hmm..

  3. Orac says:

    “Get back on the horse/bike”.
    Parents teach their children in this way.