People can be trained to forget specific details associated with bad memories, according to breakthrough findings that may usher the way for the development of new depression and post-traumatic stress disorder therapies.
New study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, reveals that individuals can be taught to forget personal feelings associated with an emotional memory without erasing the memory of the actual event.
Researchers found that individuals were still able to accurately recall the cause of the event even after they've been trained to forget the consequences and personal meaning associated with the memory.
"The ability to remember and interpret emotional events from our personal past forms the basic foundation of who we are as individuals," lead researcher Dr. Saima Noreen said in a news release.
"These novel findings show that individuals can be trained to not think about memories that have personal relevance and significance to them and provide the most direct evidence to date that we possess some kind of control over autobiographical memory," Noreen added.
Noreen and co-researcher Malcolm MacLeod, a psychology professor from the University of St. Andrews, asked study participants to generate emotional memories in response to generic cue words like theater barbecue, wildlife and so on.
Participants were asked to recall the cause of the event, the consequence of the event and their personal meanings attached to the event.
Researchers then asked participants to come up with a single word that had personal meaning, and which reminded them of the event.
Afterwards, researchers showed participants the cue and the personal word pairing and asked participants to either recall the memory associated with the word pair or to not think about the associated memory.
Surprisingly, researchers found that even though the entire autobiographical episode was not forgotten, the emotional details associated with the memory were.
Consequentially, participants were able to remember the cause of the event, but were able to forget what happened and how it made them feel.
"The capacity to engage in this kind of intentional forgetting may be critical to our ability to maintain coherent images about who we are and what we are like," co-author Professor MacLeod said in a statement.