What if I told you the way you perceive memories was about to change drastically? The ability to remember varies for everyone. Some people’s memories may be fragmented, while others’ are quite vivid and rich with detail. How exactly could we change what our brains have already stored? And are memories not just the psychological residue of what once was? Isn’t what we remember something that is merely out of our control?
Where science is currently taking us in its research pertaining to memory and just how flexible our brains can be, will disturb some and fascinate others. How would you perceive a world in which it is possible to create memories without you even being a part of them?
Memory creation by cortical stimulation is real, tested, and possible.
Specific artificial memories can easily be created by modifying brain cells in certain combinations. Researchers have explored this idea of memory creation through many different experiments and huge amounts of research.
One notable study from 2013 was conducted by researchers at University of California Irvine. Researchers played a certain tone for a group of rodents, stimulating the animals’ brains to release acetylcholine, a chemical associated with memory formation. The chemical was used to increase the number of brain cells familiar with the tone, creating memories of the tone. The memories of the tone were evident the following day, when the researchers played a variety of tones, and the mice reacted most clearly to the one associated with brain stimulation.
Similar studies have been conducted, adding to our knowledge of creating false memories.
Neuroscientists in France used a similar method to the UC Irvine researchers to implant memories in sleeping mice.
In 2015, one group of scientists used a method called “optogenetics” to label fearful memories in the brains of the rodents. The scientists then proceeded to switch the memories on and off, testing the animals’ reactions and discovering that the memories seemed to just disappear or reappear with the activation of certain labeled brain cells.
A second group of neuroscientists in this same study labeled the positive and negative emotional memories using optogenetics, then worked on converting positive memories into negative memories and negative into positive.
THESE EXPERIMENTS GAVE EVIDENCE THAT MEMORIES CAN BE IMPLANTED INTO AND EDITED IN SLEEPING ANIMALS, WHILE ALSO DEMONSTRATING HOW IMPORTANT SLEEP IS IN MANAGING MEMORIES.
Many advancements have been made, with researchers using similar techniques on humans to test their reactions to false memories. Recent research conducted by psychologists indicates that false memories can successfully be implanted into human minds with similar mind-stimulating technology.
In one recent study, the results showed that three-quarters of participants, after an experimental treatment, remembered details of a crime they did not commit.
Memory creation and manipulation is an interesting realm, one that sounds almost too bizarre to accept as real. Memories for many feel untouchable but clearly, we have more power over them than we previously thought.
Knowledge about creation of false memories could help psychologists and researchers recognize and eliminate false memories in patients, including self-created memories and imagined memories. By recognizing the way that both real and false memories are created and maintained, neuroscientists can make patients less predisposed to them and create better quality artificial memories in situations where memory manipulation is necessary.
Creating memories can also aid in improving conditions of learning disabilities through implanting sets of specific memories to target certain problems and input information into the brain, therefore aiding learning.
The potential for artificial memories and memory manipulation also exists in patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, and more.
To help people recover from these illnesses, positive memories can be implanted into minds while fearful or traumatic memories can just be “turned off”, helping patients to live more positive lives. The ethics surrounding this “memory management”, however, are questionable. Due to the fact that the memories are artificial and forced into minds, similar to genetically designing children or other artificial biological manipulations, many see operations like these as unnatural and unethical, because the operations interfere with how our minds and bodies would act naturally.
Safety can also be questioned. Doctors in charge of memory manipulation could theoretically implant whatever memories they desire into a patient, if there’s no regulation in place. These implanted memories could be very beneficial, but that is assuming that all goes as planned. Accidental implantation of negative memories or erasure of positive memories could also occur. Memory manipulation stirs much debate, whether there are more positives or negatives regarding it’s research and practice.
Regardless of its utility, the research is groundbreaking and fascinating, redefining science and psychology and forever altering the belief that we are powerless over the past.