Controlling Our Memories


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We all have things we'd like to forget. Whether it was that party last weekend, or the time you made your mom cry, there are some things we'd rather just block out. A new study shows that the brain has two different ways of helping us forget these memories. One is to completely block out the memory, and the other is to push out the bad memory with a better one.

When blocking out memories, the brain works in a specific way to ensure we don't remember what we don't want to. The hippocampus is the part of our brain that is connected to remembering. When we have a memory blocked out or suppressed, the prefrontal cortex of the brain actually suppresses the hippocampus from working, ensuring we can't remember the bad memory. Our brain is actually stopping itself from remembering something that will upset us, without us even realizing it.

On the other hand, when we use memory substitution, the prefrontal cortex works in conjunction with the hippocampus. It is this interaction that allows our brain to selectively retrieve substitute memories in place of the bad one. Our brain is actively working to remember happy memories, most of the time completely unconsciously.

Studies like this show the intense power of the human mind to ensure that we are constantly trying to remain in balance, avoiding any emotional turmoil. It is truly astonishing what our brains do through neuron impulses that we don't even realize are taking place.

4 Comments

If it weren't for the way our brain is constructed and how it helps us get through things how do you think we would act? Do you think we would be more moody and emotional as a species? What do you think the evolutionary need for this was?

As someone with a terrible memory this was a very interesting topic. To me this is almost a sign of how we can evolve. Our minds have learned over the years to be able to block out bad things, because with too many bad memories we would all be depressed. I would like to see if there is a way to manipulate this release to help soldiers or others recover from PSTD or other memory caused mental disorders

I wouldn't want any methods used on me to try to erase memories because it would be nearly impossible to target one specifically but if there were a way to alter the hippocampus to improve memory nearly everyone would pounce on it. As of now their isn't a solid drug to increase memory or brain function like in Limitless or Planet of the Apes but exercise, sleep, relationships, diet, laughing, and pushing your mind to the limits are all recommended for improving memory.

In my AP Psych class last year, this was a heavy topic. The body's way of rejecting memories is a type of defense mechanism explained by psychologists. Defense mechanisms are psychological methods in which our body uses to rid itself of bad emotions and anxiety. Repression is the defense mechanism that completely eliminates the horrifying incident from one's memory. The other defense mechanisms deal with creating a balance within oneself to ensure that we feel good.

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