Brain's Memory Suppression Probed
With Practice, People May Be Able to Intentionally Suppress Specific Memories
WebMD News Archive
July 12, 2007 -- It may be possible to learn how to suppress specific
memories, and that might help treat emotionally distressing memories, a new
The study comes from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder,
including cognitive psychology graduate student Brendan Depue, MA.
"Our findings may have implications for therapeutic approaches to
disorders involving the inability to suppress emotionally distressing memories
and thoughts, including PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), phobias,
ruminative depression/anxiety, and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder),"
Depue's team writes in the journal Science.
Depue and colleagues acknowledge that memory suppression and the
manipulation of memory have been very controversial topics in psychology for
the last century.
They studied memory suppression in 16 women aged 19-29. By memory
suppression, they mean the deliberate, conscious choice to suppress certain
First, the researchers showed the women images of other women's faces. The
faces, displayed in pairs, depicted neutral or negative facial expressions.
The women memorized the picture pairs. Then the researchers shuffled the
pictures and showed the jumbled images to the women.
In some cases, the researchers asked the women to remember which face
originally went with which image.
But in other instances, they challenged the women to suppress those memories
and deliberately not recall the original picture pairs. Memory suppression took
some practice, but it worked.
Meanwhile, the women got their brains scanned with functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI).
The brain scans showed that different areas of the brain were active when
the women remembered the facial pairs, compared with when the women suppressed
The memory suppression technique needs refinement, but once that happens,
"manipulating emotional memory might be an exciting and fruitful
development in future clinical research," write Depue and colleagues.