Not, everybody can forget a heartbreak, but thanks to a new study, it is now possible to intentionally forget bad memories.
The ability to recall can be a blessing and a curse. It isn't when almost every little detail of your life, including tragedies, remains imprinted in your brain. Of course, some of them may be forgotten, but usually, not soon enough.
Researchers from Dartmouth and Princeton Universities believe otherwise. In fact, intentional forgetting may be as easy as changing the context of the memory.
Many studies have already shown the power of context and how it makes a person encode and remember memories more easily. For example, a person who studied in a calm mood is more likely to recall his notes if he's also calm during the exam. Memories of childhood may come rushing into your mind while watching a movie, you've already seen when you were young.
To test the correlation between memory recall and context, researchers recruited 10 males and 15 females who are 21.3 years old on average.
The participants were then made to see some nature scenes like beaches or forests while memorizing two sets of words. These sceneries were necessary to help them create contextual memories.
Then some of the participants were instructed to forget the words on the first list, although the researchers still measured their ability to remember them. While these tests were going on, the brain activity of the participants was monitored using fMRI.
During analysis, the researchers discovered that participants who were compelled to forget remembered fewer words by "throwing away" context-related activity. Further, the more they detached themselves from the context, the fewer words they could recall.
"It's like intentionally pushing thoughts of your grandmother's cooking out of your mind if you don't want to think about your grandmother at that moment," said Jeremy Manning, lead author.
Although the study has its limits — it doesn't answer how the brain dumps context during intentional forgetting — it has some critical merit, especially in treating mental disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that may be triggered or exacerbated by bad memories and events.
"Forgetting is typically viewed as a 'failure' in some sense, but sometimes forgetting can be beneficial, too," said Manning.
The study is now available in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
Photo: Lucélia Ribeiro | Flickr