How we think about memory is about to change. Psychologist Alain Brunet, who works at McGill University and the Douglas Institute in Montreal, is conducting clinical trials in which participants take propranolol, a blood-pressure drug, after writing about a traumatic experience, reports Technology Review. This exercise seems to “weaken” the emotional strength of the memory, without disturbing any details. Six months after participating in a trial, one Canadian soldier suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) no longer qualified for the diagnosis.
Brunet’s research has to do with unlocking the secrets of how memories are stored, specifically proving the concept of memory reconsolidation. If Brunet is correct, when we recall a memory, it has to be packed away into the brain anew—and during that process the memory is malleable. If this is true, it opens up a bevy of possibilities for the treatment of PTSD, as well as other anxiety disorders and addiction.
There are some concerns that Brunet could be opening the proverbial Pandora’s box, but the psychologist isn’t fazed. “Brunet points out that he is trying to bring PTSD patients’ memories into a normal emotional range, not blunt their power altogether,” Technology Review senior editor Emily Singer writes. “He doesn’t think that using propranolol to render these memories bearable would create any unique potential for abuse as a way to dull the regrets, fears, and embarrassments of everyday life; people already use alcohol and drugs for such purposes.”
Source: Technology Review