Jeremy Manning

Come to Think of It—or Not: How Memories Can Be Forgotten

May 25, 2016 by John Cramer

Context plays a big role in our memories, both good and bad. Hearing Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run on the car radio, for example, may remind you of your first love—or your first speeding ticket. Either way, a new Dartmouth- and Princeton-led brain scanning study may be of interest: The study shows that people can intentionally forget their experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.

The study, which appears in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, has a range of potential applications centered on enhancing desired memories, such as developing new educational tools, or diminishing harmful memories, including treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since ancient Greece, memory theorists have known that people use context—or the situation they’re in, including sights, sounds, smells, where they are, who they are with—to organize and retrieve memories. But the team of scientists wanted to know whether—and how—people could intentionally forget certain experiences.