Traumatic memories could be switched into pleasant recollections with a flash of light, scientists claim.
Doctors may one day be able to use a new technique to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress or patients with debilitating phobias.
The method, which has been shown to work in mice, promises the ability to alter memory - a concept that so far has only been the stuff of science-fiction movies. The treatment works in a similar way to the fictional ‘neuralyzer’ used by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in the film Men in Black - a bright light that changes memories as the user dictates. The ability to alter or delete memories has been pursued by increasing numbers of scientists as the full damage caused by traumatic memories becomes clear.
There is a growing understand that recalling an emotional experience, even years later, can bring back the same intense feelings. Neurologists at the world-leading Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US have now discovered the brain pathway that link memories to emotions. They found that a single memory can prompt fear, happiness or excitement depending on the area of the brain it engages. Their findings, published today in the journal Nature, also demonstrates that the positive or negative emotions of a memory can be reversed.
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