header print

Suppressing Negative Memories May Weaken Them: Study

Many of us have had a few unpleasant or negative experiences. Things we would rather forget. Unfortunately, those unpleasant episodes can keep coming back to us from time to time. But what if you were told that there’s a way to forget them?
According to a study published in the journal eLife, actively suppressing negative experiences may help prevent intrusive thoughts and ruminations.
Our unwanted memories can often be triggered by seemingly harmless objects: a shirt that belonged to a lover that passed away or a scar from a horrific accident, for instance. Earlier research had discovered that if such unpleasant memories are deliberately pushed away from one’s consciousness, the related scenes become more difficult to remember later on and are forgotten. However, it wasn’t clear what happens to the stored scenes and whether or not they ‘faded away.’ 
Unwanted Memories, depression
This new study sheds more light on the subject.
“If you actively suppress a memory and then try to recall it again, the images appear less vividly than before,” says Ann-Kristin Meyer, a doctoral student at MPI CBS.

How the Study Worked

To investigate whether the unwanted memories really 'fade away' after being suppressed, the researchers closely studied 33 participants who were taught to relate pictures of negative experiences with neutral objects, such as a car accident with a lost shoe or a flood disaster with a rubber boot. They were shown the scenes with the respective objects several times. Eventually, the objects began to automatically evoke bad images.
While being observed via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the participants were then shown the objects and were asked to either recall the negative experiences or suppress them. This helped the research team know if the suppressed memories had actually faded. In the final step, the participants were shown the objects once again and were asked to recall each scene associated with them. 
Using a pattern classifier, the researchers observed how suppression diffused the neural reactivation of scene information both globally across the brain and locally in the parahippocampal cortices. The results revealed that suppressing memories earlier made them less vivid when recalled later on. According to the team, this happens because subduing memories weakens them “by causing a sustained reduction in the potential to reactivate their neural representations.” They argue that continued suppression exerts a sustained influence on memories by weakening their neural representations. This makes them less clear and eventually causes them to fade away.

Is Deliberately Forgetting Memories a Good Thing?

Unwanted Memories, forgetting

“Forgetting has a largely bad reputation,” says Dr. Roland Benoit, study leader and head of the Adaptive Memory Research Group at Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

However, the scientists involved in this new study believe that active forgetting may be a helpful tool in preventing memories of bad experiences from continually plaguing us. They state that we can weaken our memories and even get rid of their neural traces in the brain by controlling our thoughts.

For now, it isn’t clear why some people forget more easily than others. According to the research team, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to find it difficult to forget unpleasant memories and this isn’t the case for people without the conditions.

The researchers now insist that future studies must investigate whether and how deliberate forgetting contributes to mental health.

Share this post with friends and family...

Next Post
Sign Up for Free Daily Posts!
Did you mean:
Continue With: Google
By continuing, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy
Sign Up for Free Daily Posts!
Did you mean:
Continue With: Google
By continuing, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy