Cognitive Daily

Can we edit our own memories?

So, researchers have found a way to “edit” the memories of rats. Rats can easily be trained to avoid an electrically charged region of their cages. Then researchers injected a chemical into the rats’ memory centers, and successfully “erased” the memory, so the rats no longer knew to avoid getting shocked.

This brings up the question: can we change our own memories in a similar manner? Could we conveniently be made to forget a traumatic event from childhood or war? Could we add new memories of events that never occurred, artificial memories as vivid as the real thing? The Ledger has exciting speculation about these and other memory manipulations, including an interview with memory expert Barry Gordon.

Are these things really possible? You can read the article, or I’ll give you the answer below the fold.



  1. #1 Stuart Coleman
    September 13, 2006

    I have to admit, even though I saw it coming, that made me laugh.

  2. #2 sparc
    September 13, 2006

    Aren’t we producing and editing our memories constantly ourselves anyway? I guess this is necessary for human beings to cope with their past. Humans tend to interpret their history in a way that it appears reasonable to themselves.
    You may look up articles about “hindsight bias” and “numerical priming” to get an impression how the brain accomplishes a state in which memories are consistent with environmetgal input and other memories.
    BTW, has it been shown that most of the memories of the Challenger disaster were biased in hindsight, i.e. edited in the aftermath?

  3. #3 David Group
    September 14, 2006

    There’s this company called Lacuna which can erase any memory of a person you have had a bad relationship with . . . ;D

  4. #4 Michael Bach
    September 14, 2006

    This is a little lame (I can’t give a reference), but wasn’t there some recent evidence that our memory recall always involves a re-imprinting process? Thus any recall modifies memories based on the current setting.

    Just by comparing mine and my wife’s memories shows that one can’t trust memory anyway ;-).

  5. #5 funkyneuron
    September 15, 2006

    As Sparc said, are we not editing our memories already? Look at Loftus’ research on false memories; many witnesses to crime do not remember what they really saw, but recreate and interpret without being aware that they are doing it. Say a man was carrying a powerdrill; the witness would describe it as a gun, with all the details down to color and size.
    Memory is as malleable as putty, and we are beginning to realize this. However, as we all know, it is hard to see the outside of a house from inside…

  6. #6 SmellyTerror
    September 28, 2006

    Lucky it can’t be done. Imagine: watch a great movie, come out saying “yeehah, let’s do it again!”, go straight back in, wipe your memory of the movie as the opening credits start rolling. Watch it for the first time… again.

    Civilisation would collapse.

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