The mysteries of the mind used to be the peculiar province of speculative fiction—Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard, to name a few. Now science, particularly in the area of the mind, is catching up to our greatest SF imaginations. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have been able to create short term memories (“Total Recall”-style in rodent brain tissue). Another recent study explored the possibility of brain hacking, concluding that BCIs (Brain-Computer Interfaces) “can be turned against its users to reveal their private information.” And, now, scientists are zapping short-term emotional memories.
Uppsala University researchers, led by Thomas Ågren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology under the supervision of Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark, published a study in which they proved newly-formed emotional memories can be erased.
“When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins,” states Ågren in an Uppsala press release. “When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then restabilized by another consolidation process… [b]y disrupting the reconsolidation process that follows upon remembering, we can affect the content of memory.” (Read more about how researchers did it here.)
Ågren emphasizes the positive effects that this type of bio-hacking might potentially have on an individual’s emotional constitution.
‘These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. 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,’ says Thomas Ågren.
Nevertheless, one can imagine how the researchers’ techniques could be used for more devious ends, if it isn’t already being used in such ways already. Imagine being able to erase a spy’s memory—they then couldn’t possibly crack under interrogation! Or what if corporations in the future insist that in addition to signing confidentiality agreements, employees—especially in R&D, for instance—undergo memory erasure?
The possibilities are endless.