Memory appears susceptible to eradication of fear responses

Fear responses can only be erased when people learn something new while retrieving the fear memory. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by scientists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and published in the leading journal Science.

Researchers Dieuwke Sevenster MSc, Dr Tom Beckers and Prof. Merel Kindt have developed a method to determine whether an acquired is susceptible to modification. By doing so, they have revealed the circumstances under which an acquired fear response can be eradicated. In order to measure whether a person actually learnt something new, the researchers used a measure for Prediction Error – in other words, the discrepancy between a person's anticipation of what is going to happen and what actually happens.

No fear response

is currently the most common and effective type of treatment for people suffering from anxiety disorders. However, the effects are often short-lived and the fear returns in many patients. One major finding of Van Kindt's research lab is that when participants were given , a beta blocker, while retrieving a specific , the acquired fear response was shown to be totally erased a day or month later. The researchers repeatedly found that the fear did not come back, despite the use of techniques specifically aimed to make it return. This indicates that the fear memory was either fully eradicated, or could no longer be accessed. One crucial finding was that while participants could still remember the association with the fear, that particular memory no longer triggered the former fear response.

Fear conditioning

For their study the researchers used a fear conditioning procedure in which a specific picture was followed by a nasty painful stimulus. While the participants viewed the pictures, the researchers measured the anticipation of the painful stimulus as well as the more autonomous fear response on the basis of the startle .

The current findings will contribute to the further development of more effective and efficient therapies for patients suffering from excessive , such as trauma victims. There was no independent measure to indicate whether the memory is susceptible to modification up until now. The researchers have shown that the fear response can be eradicated completely, provided that the person concerned actually learns something new while retrieving the fear memory.

More information: www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6121/830.full

Related Stories

Scientists erase fear from the brain

Sep 20, 2012

Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain. This is shown by researchers from Uppsala University in a new study now being published by the academic journal Science. The findings may represent a brea ...

Researchers use computational models to study fear

Sep 30, 2009

The brain is a complex system made of billions of neurons and thousands of connections that relate to every human feeling, including one of the strongest emotions, fear. Most neurological fear studies have been rooted in ...

Recommended for you

What sign language teaches us about the brain

9 hours ago

The world's leading humanoid robot, ASIMO, has recently learnt sign language. The news of this breakthrough came just as I completed Level 1 of British Sign Language (I dare say it took me longer to master signing ...

Why do men prefer nice women?

9 hours ago

People's emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial "sparks" necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second ...

Study reveals how to be socially successful

10 hours ago

Romantic, personal and professional relationships are fraught with danger, but a University of Queensland researcher has found the secret to interacting successfully with others in such settings.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2013
Eliminate touch.