Bad memories turned into good ones in mice

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

brain scan guy
Computers can analyze brain waves via electrode helmets like this one, opening the door for unique therapies, especially when combined with the latest memory research.

Do you have a scary or embarrassing memory that sends a chill down your spine whenever it crosses your mind? Certain situations may even trigger feelings that make you relive the painful experience. Fear not, though, because researchers have recently discovered a way to turn bad memories into good ones.

When we form a memory, there are different parts of the brain that actually do all of the “remembering.” For example, while one portion of the old noggin’ stores facts about a certain sequence of events, another area will store vital information about our emotional state. This means that different regions of our mind have to work together to contribute their piece of the puzzle before they can recreate a full memory.

Well, in order to change bad memories into good ones, researchers simply swapped out the negative emotions associated with an event. To do this, they used two groups of male mice that were trained to either fear or desire certain corners of their cage. Some of the rodents were zapped with mild electricity, causing them to form scary memories associated with one corner, while the second group of furballs formed happy memories after hanging out with females in another corner.

Now, in order to swap out the bad emotions and replace them with happy ones, the researchers kept the male mice in the corner of the cage they feared… but this time they allowed the fellas to mingle with the lady mice there. Eventually, the mice stopped fearing that corner, because it brought them such joy! Unfortunately for the second group of rats, they were given the opposite treatment, and were jolted in the previously pleasant corners until they learned to fear the space.

If these results can be replicated in humans (minus the electricity!), it could serve as a new form of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder – a mental disorder that is triggered by very negative past events. People may be trained to experience positive feelings in situations that remind them of a hurtful past, thereby overcoming the bad mojo.

Featured image courtesy of vaXzine on Flickr. Image of brain computer interface courtesy of Ars Electronica on Flickr.