For some, a certain song or smell makes them feel postively nostalgic while for someone else it reminds them of a love lost.But a new study has shown people can intentionally forget past experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.
The findings could help in the development of new educational tools, or even help to diminish harmful memories, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Theorists have known since the Ancient Greek era the importance of context in retrieving our memories, such as being reminded by a particular person, sight or smell.
But the team from Dartmouth and Princeton wanted to find out about whether memories could be intentionally forgotten.
To do this, they scanned the brains of participants using MRI technology to track the thoughts related to memories’ contexts, while putting a new twist on the traditional psychological research technique of having subjects memorise and recall a list of unrelated words.
In the new study, researchers showed participants images of outdoor scenes, such as forests, mountains and beaches, as they studied two lists of random words.