Past imperfect: study explores brain's ability to forget unpleasant memories

Posted on Thursday 12th June 2014
Simon Hanslmayr

New research from the School of Psychology has shed light on the human brain’s amazing ability to dispose of unhappy memories. 

Simon Hanslmayr, together with Professor Michael C Anderson of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, published an article in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences that described the mechanisms behind motivated forgetting. 

Forgetting is usually thought of a passive process that happens because memories have not been encoded properly or because they fade over time. 

But several recent studies have shown that we down-regulate memories that are not pleasant or useful, leading to active forgetting. 

The paper, entitled Neural mechanisms of motivated forgetting, showed that the process is controlled by mechanisms that down-regulate hippocampal activity and neural synchrony, which shapes how we remember our past.