Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Can you erase bad memories?/A cure for Gillian McKeith!

Over the past few days all I've been hearing about is Gillian McKeith and her fainting episodes. I don't even watch the program and somehow I know all about it!! Well there could be help for her yet! Often you hear that phobias are caused by an event in the person's past and bad memories have the ability to upset us years later. This morning I heard about a drug that can supposedly erase bad memories. Quite a dramatic statement to make but it's the hook that gets you in to read the article isn't it!?

Merel Kindt lead a study at the University of Amsterdam which was published in early 2009. It focused on the idea that memories are 'consolidated' in your sleep and once remembered or 'reactivated' they are then 'editable.' The process of forming this edited memory is called 'reconsolidation.'

In addition to these results Kindt and the team also found that the use of propanolol was not erasing the memory of the link between the shock and the spiders. Instead, all of the patients remembered the link, but only those treated with propanolol had no fear response. 

This could be crucial, as it seems extremely questionable whether people should have memories erased completely. We develop and learn as humans from bad experiences as well as good and I wouldn't wish to forget any bad experiences in my life. They teach me for the future.

Dr Emily Holmes, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Oxford uses illness as an example:

I think someone who’s ill will tell you that they would like to erase those bad memories given the chance. But once they’ve recovered, I doubt they would want to remove the part that illness played in their lives.

Dr Anders Sandberg, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Oxford disagrees:

There is one strong moral reason to weaken fear associations: to improve human well-being. Having accurate, truthful memories may be good for a person’s identity and ability to act morally.. But, I think, these factors are still far less important than the opportunity to live a healthy life...

...I’m not saying that editing memories should be taken lightly. But our natural memory is already imperfect, biased and in many cases, made up. So, perhaps, we shouldn’t see it as anything totally different from the editing of our own memory we already do every day.

Obviously this is all based on technology that is still being developed and if treatment began I'm sure any decision about it would be taken very seriously and decided on a case by case basis.

What is everyone else's take on this?

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