New psychology research shows that we can train ourselves to forget. Using EEG studies, Gerd Thomas Waldhauser of Lund University in Sweden has demonstrated that – in the same way we control our motor impulses (for example, rapidly instructing the brain not to catch a cactus falling from a table) – we can control our memory. Waldhauser gave the results of his study in the public defense of his doctoral dissertation on June 13, 2011.
Waldhauser performed tests in a laboratory environment where volunteers were asked to practice forgetting or attempting to forget facts. Using EEG measurements, Waldhauser showed that the parts of the brain we restrain in a motor impulse are the ones activated when we suppress a memory. And just as we can practice restraining motor impulses, we can also train ourselves to repress memories, or to forget.
Waldhauser points out several situations in which forgetting could be helpful. People suffering from depression – and often dwelling on negative thoughts – might find it easier to emerge from the depression if they repress or forget the negative thoughts. The same type of repression could benefit those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as memory of a traumatic event makes it difficult to act rationally and resolve a situation. However, the possible consequences of a deliberate repression of memories in this type of situation are not clearly established.
We know that “forgotten” or repressed feelings often manifest themselves as physiological reactions.
He pointed out that the volunteers in his study were trained to forget neutral information in a controlled laboratory environment. Training to forget a traumatic event would be more complex.
Waldhauser has not only shown that we can deliberately forget things but has also managed to capture through EEG measurements the exact moment when inhibition of the memory occurs – that is, when the person imposed the forgetting.
The inhibition of memory eases off after a few hours. But the more often information is suppressed, the more difficult it becomes to retrieve it, as Waldhauser has shown through studies in a laboratory environment. He explains:
If the memories have been suppressed over a long period of time, they could be extremely difficult to retrieve.
Bottom line: Gerd Thomas Waldhauser of Lund University in Sweden demonstrated in a psychology study using EEG that individuals can control the forgetting of memories in the way they can control motor impulses. Results of the study appear in a doctoral dissertation, which Waldhauser defended on June 13, 2011.
The EarthSky team has a blast bringing you daily updates on your cosmos and world. We love your photos and welcome your news tips. Earth, Space, Human World, Tonight.