Erasing Our Memories

Who hasn’t dreamed of owning the memory eraser from Men in Black? We all have awkward, embarrassing memories that we wish we could simply wipe from our minds. For people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), certain traumatic memories are so triggering that they can cause insomnia, depression and anxiety. The ability to erase those harrowing memories would greatly improve the lives of people with the disorder, possibly even curing them altogether. While erasing memories with a flash of light may be just a little too sci-fi, recent research into the biological mechanisms of memory offer hope of memory deletion coming in the form of a pill or an injection..

Memories are not as stable as you might expect. When a memory is recalled, It can be strengthened, weakened or updated. Think of how when you see a friend with a new haircut, your visual memory of them is changed to incorporate it. However, retrieved memories are fragile, in the same way that putting up a tent without pegs makes it vulnerable to being blown away. The process of stabilising a memory (hammering in the tent pegs) is called reconsolidation. If we can prevent reconsolidation from happening, then we can cause the memory to vanish.

Joseph LeDoux, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, blocked reconsolidation in rats by injecting an antibiotic known as anisomycin into the amygdala (the brain region responsible for.storing certain types of memory). This caused the rats to forget things they had been previously taught, such as fear of a stimulus. Although anisomycin is toxic to humans, other studies have suggested that beta-blockers may produce similar results in the human brain. All signs suggest that memory deletion won’t be confined to science fiction for much longer. 

The ‘watching you pee’ experiment

In 1976, psychologists Middlemist, Knowles & Miller designed an experiment to discover how men’s urination habits change when their personal space is invaded. Yeah, this is a weird one. 

So how to measure this? Don’t let anyone tell you that psychologists aren’t imaginative; they embedded a periscope within a stack of books. This device was placed on the floor of a toilet stall next to three urinals and an observer used it to record the peeing habits of anyone using the urinal closest to the stall. Sometimes a confederate (someone in on the experiment) would use one of the other urinals. Unsurprisingly, on average the subjects took longer to start and were quicker to finish when the confederate used the urinal next to them.

This study obviously comes up frequently in ethical discussions. All subjects were kept anonymous (the periscope couldn’t see higher than the navel of each subject), and even the location of the restroom used was kept quiet. However, there is definitely something creepy about the whole business. Just spare a thought for the poor grad student who was roped into watching hours of urination as part of his degree.

If you want to read the comically serious article from the original study, click here.

Image: Urinal by eye-light on Flickr.

Watch on theneuralnetwork.tumblr.com

Change Blindness

IMPORTANT!: Watch the video above before reading the rest of this post.


Don’t feel too bad, the majority of people miss it. The phenomenon occurring in the video above is called Change Blindness. It happens because although you were looking closely, you weren’t seeing.

Attention is required to identify changes. If your attention is distracted, then it’s very easy to miss large changes in your environment. This flaw in our vision is what countless illusions and magic tricks rely on; distractions that keep us from seeing what they’re really doing.

The limited resources of our vision allow us to focus in on certain aspects of our environment. However this leaves gaps which are filled in by our expectations. When you were focusing on the passes made by the team in white, you had no reason to expect a moonwalking gorilla to be passing by. Therefore, you missed it.

Hi,

I created this blog about two weeks ago, and I figured it’s about time I said something about myself, and this blog. My name is Jamie, and I’m a second year Psychology student at Birmingham, England.

With this blog, I’m aiming to do 3 things. First, I want to expand my own knowledge of Psychology. Second, I want to show as many people as possible just how exciting and interesting the world of Psychology is. Third, I just want to have a damn good time researching and writing about all the crazy stuff discovered about the human brain.

I’ve had an unbelievable response so far to this blog, way more than I could have anticipated. Therefore, I’m desperate to keep it running as best as I can. However, during the next month or so, I’m going to be having difficulty just getting onto the internet, let alone finding the time to write up any posts. I’ll try my best, but I doubt there’ll be many posts this August. I will try to research as many interesting bits and pieces I can find though, so when I come back in September I’ll have a whole bunch of things to talk about.

Thank you so much for following me and liking my posts, as I said, this response has been amazing.

 - Jamie 

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