AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Forget about it!

What is the earliest memory that you can remember? Is it a good memory or a bad one? Hopefully it’s a good one. Recent studies have shown, however, that the brain has two ways of coping with bad memories.

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc

Students are taught in school that in order to “remember” something, there are a series of chemical reactions throughout the brain that allows you to find the memory you are looking for. But if you have a bad memory, how do you stop the reaction and forget?

Dr. Roland Benoit is a “cognitive neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in England.” He and his team studied how one can stop these bad memories. They found that the brain uses two mechanisms. First, the brain can simply “block out the memory.” The other mechanism is to “recall a substitute memory.”

Dr. Benoit studied the outcome of MRI scans when participants were told to associate different words. They were first told to associate the words “beach” and “Africa.” Next, they were told to associate the words “beach” and “snorkel” (forgetting about “Africa.” Dr. Benoit and his team found that the left prefrontal cortex of the brain works with the hippocampus (the “hippocampus is an area of the brain connecting to conscious remembering”). When the group was told to forget about Africa, and focus on snorkel, the prefrontal cortex inhibited the function of the hippocampus. Thus, the brain has a mechanism built in to allow humans to virtually block out memories.

This study shows that there are different techniques to block out memories, especially if they are bad memories. Every human is going to have a different mechanism when it comes to blocking out memories. If you would rather replace a memory with something else or completely block out a memory, the choice is yours.

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  1. sciencegirl025

    Wow this is really great! Having the option to suppress memories, such as in the case of sexual abuse, would be imperative to those victims. This Stanford article describes the research of a few of the scientists there and their innovated way of training the brain to “forget” certain memories. It describes a series of tests performed and how the brain actually does have the capability to suppress memeories; it claims that memory is no longer an involuntary mechanism it was thought to be. Check it out:

  2. troybolton

    This is really interesting Biorob. Harvard did a study that showed how it is common for the brain to block out bad memories in children. Harvard did a study that showed that children who were sexually abused repressed the memory and did not remember it until later. Only 2 out of 27 kids remembered this tragic event. It’s a good thing too, imagine growing up remembering that. Good thing are brains know what to do!

  3. dwil

    This is really cool because there are countless people who have issues with overcoming bad memories. If there was a way to block of memories using legitimate methods, I can’t even begin to describe how many people would want to use them. This post also has a lot to do with the last one I read about PTSD. If PTSD patients were able to receive some kind of medical treatment to block out bad past experiences it would help them a lot. Here is a cool article on the subject that is similar.

  4. inewitt

    Good article biorob. Scientists recently looked at the effects of alcohol on forgetting painful memories, since many people use that as a tool. In fact the alcohol didn’t help and it could have the reverse effect, because it impedes the brain from inhibiting that previous memory and moving on.

  5. sayrest4

    There is an article which suggests that this kind of technique can be used to help people who have depression or PTSD ( However, there have been other articles which show that repressed memories can cause negative psychological effects ( I wonder if the process of substituting memories is a viable solution to this problem?

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