New research shows that, contrary to what was previously assumed, suppressing unwanted memories reduces their influence on behaviour, and sheds light on how this process happens in the brain.
The team at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the University of Cambridge’s Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI) have examined how suppression affects a memory’s unconscious influences in an experiment that focused on suppression of visual memories, as intrusive unwanted memories are often visual in nature. CBU researchers included Pierre Gagnepain, Rik Henson and Michael Anderson
Michael, pictured right, says “It is now clear that the influence of suppression extends beyond areas of the brain associated with conscious memory. This may contribute to making unwanted visual memories less intrusive over time, and perhaps less vivid and detailed.”
The study, part-funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and published online in PNAS, challenges the idea that suppressed memories remain fully preserved in the brain’s unconscious, allowing them to be inadvertently expressed in someone’s behaviour. The results of the study suggest instead that the act of suppressing intrusive memories helps to disrupt traces of the memories in the parts of the brain responsible for sensory processing.
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