Whether it's snakes, clowns or heights, we've all got our own fears. Irrational as they may be, given the opportunity, many of us would jump at the chance to erase them from our brains. Good news, because a team of Swedish scientists say they can do just that.
Researchers from Uppsala University have developed a technique that makes it possible to interrupt the formation of new memories during the critical stage they're being anchored in our brain by proteins.
Memories are elusive, shaky things. When a person first learns or experiences something, a long-term memory is created with the formation of proteins during a process called consolidation. When the person remembers that event, the memory becomes unstable for a bit and then restabilizes
by another consolidation process.
Researchers focused on this second consolidation event during their study. Participants were shown neutral images (such as landscapes), and then given electric shocks that created a fearful memory by associating the image with pain. Naturally, participants displayed levels of anxiety when later shown the picture.
However, during the memory reconsolidation phase, half of the participants were repeatedly shown the same image, only this time without the shock. Results showed that doing this disrupted the reconsolidating, memory-making process and participants didn't exhibit fear when shown the images again. Voila, scary memory wiped away.
Researchers also found this technique erased traces of said memory from the nuclear group of amygdala, the part of the brain that stores memories of fear.
"These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear," Thomas Agren, one of the lead researchers, said in a press release. "Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks."
Sure, much of this science is primarily geared towards newly formed memories, but hopefully research like this could lead the eradication of long-standing fears.
Due to a childhood fishing trip where I heard a fellow angler's verbal venom after he was stabbed by a catfish horn, I have a preternatural fear of catfish. Though fascinated by it, noodling is basically my nightmare come to life.
Because I like to fish, first on my list of erasable fears would be my catfish phobia. Irrational or not, what fear would you like erased? Let us know in the comments below.