Neuroscience discovery to a spotless mind?

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by Lina Barbenes, Science Correspondent

A study published on Sunday the 15th of February in the journal Nature Neuroscience reports that a new method, using existing blood pressure pills, could be useful for weakening or erasing bad memories in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the new study on humans, by Merel Kindt and colleagues at University of Amsterdam, 60 subjects were taught to associate pictures of spiders with a mild shock, creating a fearful memory. Later, they were given either a beta-blocker called propranolol or a placebo. The group given propranolol had a greatly decreased fear response to the spider pictures 24 hours later, according to the journal. And the fear response did not return, suggesting that their fear memory was completely erased.

[caption id=”attachment_1861” align=”alignleft” width=”150” caption=”Would you like a ‘spotless mind’?”][/caption]

Unfortunately, other research has shown bad memories stick better than good ones and the risk of erasing these good ones while trying to get rid of the bad ones remains.

Although these findings may mean a significant improvement in the life of people suffering from the emotional after-effects of traumatic experiences, it raises the issue of the how much emotion and pain we are willing to live with. Of course, everyone would have in mind the ’Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind’, Michel Gondry’s utopia… not so utopian.

Obviously, I am not writing about people who are torn by traumatic memories; I am worried about a wider use of such pills. Just like plastic surgery was originally made to fix ‘serious’ body damages, these pills could lead to a flawless standard supposed to provide happiness for all who can afford it. To do that would be to forget that memories, good and bad, are extremely important in shaping our personality all through our lives. How could we learn from our mistakes otherwise?

By trying to protect ourselves from suffering, we would only make us more vulnerable. I reckon being human is all about failing and overcoming obstacles; our personal identity is shaped by our reaction in facing such obstacles. We can only hope scientists and other pharmaceutical marketers will be careful about that when putting it on the market.

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