Rewire Memory to Forget Fears
Research suggests that there are two types of memory: short term and long term. It used to be believed that once something enters long term memory, it lives there forever. Research over the past several years has shown this to be false. To understand how this happens, you have to understand the general concepts of how memories are stored. This occurs during the process of consolidation. According to the textbook Biological Psychology by James Kalat (used for my biological bases class), consolidation is simply when a memory becomes stored in long-term memory. The time it takes to do this can be affected by time or how meaningful the memory is. Every time this memory is brought back up, it has to be reconsolidated, or re-remembered. It is during this reconsolidation that memories can be altered, called the reconsolidation effect.
What researchers have found is that certain types of influences presented during reconsolidation can erase or change the memory for good. This has been tested on fear responses in order to look for ways that individuals with anxiety disorders can overcome their fears. Researchers from Uppsala University tested this by disrupting the reconsolidation process by repeatedly presenting a picture after the initial fearful stimulus had been presented. They found that these individuals no longer associated the initial fearful stimulus as fearful. Another study done by researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that administering the beta blocker propranolol produced the same results. The fearful memory had been completely erased. These findings imply that the instability of memory can be beneficial in helping individuals who suffer from disorders like phobias, PTSD, panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. It will be interesting to see future research that tests this hypothesis on individuals who actually suffer from an anxiety disorder.