Shock Treatment Zaps Your Bad Memories

Netherlands researchers find success with electroshock therapy
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2013 9:12 AM CST
Shock Treatment Zap Your Bad Memories
Electroshock therapy seems to be able to fight painful memories.   (Shutterstock)

Scientists are investigating a new way to combat bad memories, and so far, the results look promising. In the 1960s, researchers found that mice who were trained to fear a certain sound were able to forget that fear if shocked after hearing the noise. A new study points to a similar phenomenon in humans, National Geographic reports, which could someday help us get rid of unwanted memories, as in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers in the Netherlands showed 39 people—already undergoing electroconvulsive therapy to fight depression—trauma-inducing slideshows.

A week later, the subjects saw the first slide from one show again as a memory "trigger." Some subjects then received electroconvulsive therapy. All were then asked questions about the stories. Those who didn't receive ECT were able to correctly answer about half the questions on the triggered story; those who got the treatment could only answer a quarter correctly, giving them the same score as if they'd randomly guessed. They did better on questions about the story that hadn't been triggered, suggesting ECT "selectively erased" memories, Virginia Hughes writes. Next, researchers plan to try a similar study on PTSD sufferers. It's just one of multiple recent studies that sound a little like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (More electroshock therapy stories.)

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