Quirks & Quarks

Do you have a scary memory? Scientists want to delete it.

New research shows how bad memories can be replaced by good ones.
Child actors Lisa and Louise Burns played the daughters of former caretaker Grady in Kubrick's 1980 classic, The Shining. (Warner Bros./TIFF)

A new approach to treating fear disorders may one day provide help for patients suffering from PTSD and various phobias.

Dr. Ben Seymour, a clinical neuroscientist from University of Cambridge in England, used a combination of brain scanning and artificial intelligence called 'Decoded Neurofeedback' to identify fear patterns in the brain. Every time that pattern appeared in the brain of a volunteer, a positive association was presented; in this case a small monetary reward.

Over a period of three days, the fear pattern was overridden by the positive memory pattern. It's hoped that with more research this approach can become a routine clinical treatment.

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Paper in Nature Human Behaviour: Fear reduction without fear through reinforcement of neural activity that bypasses conscious exposure