In the Loop

In the Loop: July 9, 2007 Archive

A pill to make bad memories go bye bye?

Posted at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2007 by Sanden Totten (5 Comments)

So you remember how in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jim Carrey's character had a team of technicians remove painful memories from his mind? Well, like flying machines and wireless communicators, memory erasers are making the jump from science fiction to the real world.

The drug propranolol, usually used for treating hypertension, has a curious effect on memories. As the Telegraph reports, if a person takes the drug while recalling the details of an emotional memory it will dampen the impact of the memory. The next time they try to recall that memory it will be less intense, less painful or whatever.

As Professor Karim Nader, one of the scientists behind a recent study of the drug puts it:

"We gave patients a drug that turns down the emotional part of the memory. It left the conscious part of the memory intact, so they could still remember all the details but without being overwhelmed by the memory."

Some suggest that you could take it even further by injecting the drug at the right time when a person is remembering a stressful event and screw up their ability to re-store that memory. You'd basically scramble their recollection and erase the memory all together.

The Wired Science blog raises some good concerns
: What if you accidentally think of the wrong memory, perhaps a really good one? Will that suddenly disappear too? Will this be used to treat serious post-traumatic stress or will it become a lifestyle drug to erase awkward conversations and embarrassing blunders?

Personally, I'm excited by the possibilities. I think it could do wonders for victims of serious crimes, returning troops, people involved in major accidents and others suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. But I'm also skeptical. My outlandish conspiracy theory fears remind me of another movie, not quite as critically successful as Eternal Sunshine, but none the less relevant: the sci-fi thriller Paycheck starring Ben Affleck.

But then again, my general attitude towards new technological possibilities is not if we will use them, but when.

What about you? Would you take the pill?

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