Essentially, the brain appears to be able to overwrite the memory during a short time period, she said.
In the big picture, the research "might help us develop interventions that are more long-lasting, more effective in the long term" than current ones, she said.
Joy Hirsch, director of Columbia University Medical Center's program for imaging and cognitive sciences, said the research provides "a fundamental basis to be hopeful that one's fears and anxieties that are the result of traumatic memories can be resolved."
The focus "is not on natural degeneration of a memory, which would be forgetting," she said. "The focus is in changing the memory in some way not to falsify it. You call it up, and you interject something or you modify the way you think about it. You change it in some way; then it reconsolidates."
But couldn't changing memories be dangerous?
"Everything we understand about how memory works will help us manipulate memories," Phelps said. "And that can be used for good or evil."
McGill University has more on memory and the brain.
SOURCES: Elizabeth Phelps, Ph.D., lab director, Department of Psychology, New York University, New York City; Joy Hirsch, Ph.D., professor and director, program for imaging and cognitive sciences, Columbia University Medical Center, New York City; Dec. 10, 2009, Nature
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