Can We Control Forgetfulness?

New research shows that we can actually train ourselves to forget things in the same way that we can train our motor impulses.

[Psychology researcher Gerd Thomas] Waldhauser’s tests are carried out in a laboratory environment where volunteers are asked to practise forgetting, or attempting to forget facts. Through EEG measurements, Waldhauser shows that the same parts of the brain are activated when we restrain a motor impulse and when we suppress a memory. And just as we can practise restraining motor impulses, we can also train ourselves to repress memories, i.e. to forget.

“We know that ‘forgotten’ or repressed feelings often manifest themselves as physiological reactions”, says Waldhauser, who is careful to point out that the volunteers were trained to forget neutral information in a controlled laboratory environment. Training to forget a traumatic event would be more complex.

Waldhauser has not only shown that we can deliberately forget things. Through EEG measurements, he has also managed to capture the exact moment when the memory is inhibited, that is when the forgetfulness is imposed.

The inhibition of memory eases off after a few hours. But the more often information is suppressed, the more difficult it becomes to retrieve it, as Waldhauser has shown through studies in a laboratory environment.

“If the memories have been suppressed over a long period of time, they could be extremely difficult to retrieve”, says Waldhauser.

Star trek fans know that Mr. Spock demonstrated that the entire Vulcan race had mastered the art of forgetting in a classic Star Trek episode Requiem for Methuselah. And, they can force you to forget, too.


("Forget" stated forcefully during Vulcan mind-meld)

From Lund University.

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