Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have examined the process of forming and remembering a memory. When an individual experiences an event a memory is formed with the help of a process called consolidation. When the individual recalls the memory, the recall process makes the memory unstable for a time before it goes through the consolidation process once again.
This means that future recalls of the memory is not a reflection of what originally occurred but rather the recall of how the event was thought about the last time it was remembered.
The researchers found that if the consolidation process was targeted and subsequently altered, the content of the memory is also amended.
During the study, the researchers needed to create a memory that triggered fear. Participants were shown a neutral image while at the same time receiving an electric shock. The individuals subconsciously made the association between the particular image and the occurrence of an electric shock thus a fear memory had been formulated.
The participants were then randomly assigned one of two conditions; either they had the re-consolidation process manipulated which was done by seeing the image without the presence of an electric shock therefore diminishing the amount of fear that arose as a result of viewing the image. The control condition didn’t alter the re-consolidation process in any way.
The researchers concluded that if the re-consolidation process is amended, it is possible that a memory previously considered fearful no longer activated the fear response in the area of the brain known as the amygdala.
This research has highlighted a process that could be targeted in order to change the impact of a traumatic or emotional memory, the next step now is to see how this process can be undertaken in real life scenarios.