PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If You Could Pop A Pill To Forget, Would You?

(Flickr/Grumpy-Puddin)

We remember everything from the taste of our favorite ice cream flavor to the feeling of losing a loved one.

And new research in the works may help people forget painful memories with a drug.

People tend to think that our memories are just sitting in our brains, like some sort of file in a computer hard drive.

But researchers now say that’s all wrong. Our memories aren’t static, they’re constantly changing, because each time we recall a memory, we rebuild it from scratch.

Jonah Lehrer wrote about this research in a recent Wired magazine article:

Memories are not formed and then pristinely maintained, as neuroscientists thought; they are formed and then rebuilt every time they’re accessed. “The brain isn’t interested in having a perfect set of memories about the past,” [neuroscientist Joseph] LeDoux says. “Instead, memory comes with a natural updating mechanism, which is how we make sure that the information taking up valuable space inside our head is still useful. That might make our memories less accurate, but it probably also makes them more relevant to the future.”

Lehrer also wrote about research that is helping people forget the pain associated with memories.

How To Erase Memories

1.) Pick A Memory: It has to be a deeply-rooted, long-term memory.

2.) Recall The Memory: A patients is asked to recall the memory. The act of remembering causes the brain to create new proteins.

3.) ‘Nuke The Memory’
Patients are asked to recall the memory again, except this time a drug is administered and the proteins that would be created are blocked. That causes the memory to vanish.

Source: Wired

One technique is to give people beta-blockers, which inhibit emotional responses. The therapy requires people to recall the event while taking the beta-blocker. Since memories are rebuilt each time we recall them, the new memory would be free of the intense emotions. So, while a soldier might still remember a devastating battle, he could disassociate the emotion that led to debilitating post traumatic stress disorder.

Finally, the holy grail of memory research would be a pill that could wipe out a memory (or negative emotion) all together.

Lehrer says memory erasure would work by asking people to remember something, while they take a drug to block a protein that rebuilds memory. Since the protein needed to rebuilt the memory would be missing, the memory would cease to exist.

Lehrer says this type of research raises lots of ethical questions.

If our memories make us who we are, what does it mean to erase part of our memories. Are we deleting part of ourselves?

Fortunately, we won’t have to grapple with those issues for several years, since Lehrer says a so-called forgetting pill is still five to ten years from reality.

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 28 Comment

How Bits Of Pink Chewing Gum In A Pouch Changed Baseball

The story of Big League Chew starts in a bullpen, where two pitchers didn't like players' habit of chewing tobacco.

May 28 4 Comments

The Epic Rise And Fall Of BlackBerry

How does a company go from controlling half the world's smartphone market to less than 1 percent?

May 27 Comment

Parched Rivers, Grasslands Choke California Wildlife

Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd reports there is no relief in sight for California farmers and wildlife ravaged by drought.

May 27 21 Comments

Comedy Writer Brings ‘The Tweet Of God’ To Broadway

"An Act of God," starring Jim Parsons, was born out of David Javerbaum's parody Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod.