Forgetting Fear
March 9, 2015 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Repairing Bad Memories
[Daniela Schiller] explained how recent research, including her own, has shown that memories are not unchanging physical traces in the brain. Instead, they are malleable constructs that may be rebuilt every time they are recalled. The research suggests, she said, that doctors (and psychotherapists) might be able to use this knowledge to help patients block the fearful emotions they experience when recalling a traumatic event, converting chronic sources of debilitating anxiety into benign trips down memory lane. And then Schiller went back to what she had been doing, which was providing a slamming, rhythmic beat on drums and backup vocals for the Amygdaloids(previously), a rock band composed of New York City neuroscientists.

Map Of Your Mind
A Neural Mechanism Of First Impressions - "Evaluating social others requires processing complex information. Nevertheless, we can rapidly form an opinion of an individual during an initial encounter. Moreover, people can vary in these opinions, even though the same information is provided. We investigated the brain mechanisms that give rise to the impressions that are formed on meeting a new person."
Daniela Schiller on Story Collider: As Good As Your Last Memory and A New Last Memory

Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms - "Recent research on changing fears has examined targeting reconsolidation. During reconsolidation, stored information is rendered labile after being retrieved. Pharmacological manipulations at this stage result in an inability to retrieve the memories at later times, suggesting that they are erased or persistently inhibited. Unfortunately, the use of these pharmacological manipulations in humans can be problematic. Here we introduce a non-invasive technique to target the reconsolidation of fear memories in humans."
Schiller: Yielding to Neural Temptation

Between thoughts and actions: motivationally salient cues invigorate mental action in the human brain. - "The maintenance of goal-directed behavior relies upon a cascade of covert mental actions including motor imagery and planning. Here we investigated how cues imbued with motivational salience can invigorate motor imagery networks preceding action."

How Free Is Your Will?
Transcranial direct current stimulation of the prefrontal cortex: a means to modulate fear memories. - "Targeting memory processes by noninvasive interventions is a potential gateway to modulate fear memories as shown by animal and human studies in recent years. Modulation of fear memories by noninvasive brain stimulation techniques might be an attractive approach, which, however, has not been examined so far. We investigated the effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and left supraorbital region on fear memories in humans."

The Ripple Project: Reconsolidation - "A daughter discovers synchronicity between her scientific career and her father’s method of coping with his traumatic past"

More publications by Daniela Schiller

Partial Recall - "Can neuroscience help us rewrite our most traumatic memories?"
Sigmund Schiller’s disregard for Holocaust Remembrance Day is perhaps understandable; he spent the first two years of the Second World War in the Horodenka ghetto (at the time in Poland, but now in Ukraine) and the next two hiding in bunkers scattered across the forests of Galicia. In 1942, at the age of fifteen, he was captured by the Germans and sent to a labor camp near Tluste, where he managed to survive the war. Trauma victims frequently attempt to cordon off their most painful memories. But Sigmund Schiller never seemed to speak about his time in the camp, not even to his wife.

“In sixth grade, our teacher asked us to interview someone who survived the Holocaust,” Daniela Schiller said. “So I went home after school. My father was at the kitchen table reading a newspaper, and I asked him to tell me about his memories. He said nothing. I have done this many times since. Always nothing.” A wan smile crossed her face. We were sitting in her office, not far from the laboratory she runs at Mount Sinai, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was an exceptionally bright winter morning, and the sun streaming through the window made her hard to see even from a few feet away. “I long ago concluded that his silence would last forever,” she said. “I grew up wondering which of all the horrifying things we learned about at school the Germans did to him.”

Slowly, over the years, that silence closed in on her. “It wasn’t so much a conscious thing,” she said. “But I grew up with that fear in the background. What was he hiding? Why? How do people even do that?” The last question has, to a large degree, become the focus of her career: Schiller studies the intricate biology of how emotional memories are formed in the brain. Now forty-one, and an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Mount Sinai, she specializes in the connection between memory and fear. “We need fear memories to survive,” she said. “How else would you know not to touch that burner again? But fear takes over the lives of so many people. And there is not enough that we can do about it.”
posted by the man of twists and turns (4 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Perfect Tommy: Pictures don't lie.
Reno: The hell they don't. I met my first wife that way.
posted by ostranenie at 1:19 AM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

...memories are not unchanging physical traces in the brain. Instead, they are malleable constructs that may be rebuilt every time they are recalled.

I'm kind of surprised anyone would believe otherwise. Simple, anecdotal personal experience would seem to confirm that memories are liquid things.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:03 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

a growing army of like-minded researchers have marshaled a pile of data to argue that we can alter the emotional impact of a memory by adding new information to it or recalling it in a different context.

Isn't this already something CBT practitioners have been doing for a while? Or is this new because they're approaching it from a technological perspective?
posted by KGMoney at 2:48 PM on March 10, 2015

It's important to mention the role that psychedelics used [New Yorker, Feb 2015] in a clinical setting [Diane Rehm Show, Oct 2014, includes transcript] can hold when it comes to helping people heal from these kinds of trauma.
posted by hippybear at 2:54 PM on March 10, 2015

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