In an experiment, New York University scientists have blocked fearful recollections in human participants, sans drugs. It’s the first time that using a behavioural technique has been proven to work in humans, as opposed to a pharmacological one. According to studies, this is how memories get consolidated. Let’s say we see a snake. At that moment our brains pull out past information we’ve stored on snakes. By revisiting the snake memory, a portal of sorts opens and that memory is open to manipulation. The research team ‘seized the moment’ by changing the fearful information before the memory got sealed up again. Participants viewed coloured boxes on a computer screen, one of which was paired with a mild electric shock. Participants thus reacted fearfully to blue squares. The next day, the square wasn’t paired with a shock, a way to teach participants that the object was now ‘safe’. All participants left that day essentially free of their fear response to a blue square. The next day, participants received a mild shock before viewing the blue square. The fear didn’t come back. A test of some participants a year later showed that the reconsolidation held up, with people showing no fear of the blue square.
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