We all have that certain memory we'd want to forget like a first date gone wrong or an embarrassing experience at work. Just like in the movie, 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' researchers have found a way to do it.
Researchers from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire published a report in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review suggesting that they have figured out a way to help people forget certain unwanted memories through "contextually mediated intentional forgetting." In simplest terms, this can be done by clearing the mind of the context or any background aspects related to these memories.
For instance, if you want to forget a painful conversation you've had in the past, you could push away from your mind the song that was playing in the background or any thoughts related to that scene, said Jeremy Manning, lead author of the study.
"It's like intentionally pushing thoughts of your grandmother's cooking out of your mind if you don't want to think of your grandmother at that moment," he said.
Researchers have suggested two main strategies that could help in the process. One is to deliberately empty the mind from any thoughts. The other one is to fill the mind with thoughts about things that are totally not related to the memory you want to forget. "If you don't want to think about the color blue, you think of the green things instead, or red," Manning said.
The study was conducted among 25 participants aged 19 to 34. Researchers handed the participants a list of words to study while showing images of outdoor locations like forests, beaches and mountains.
Results showed that when participants were asked to forget the words, they tried to push away from their minds thoughts related to the image they had been shown earlier. Participants who were successful in pushing away images recalled the fewest words. But when asked to remember the words, participants retained the related images in their minds.
According to Manning, forgetting can be as important as remembering. This is particularly beneficial to people with post-traumatic stress disorder who want to forget certain traumatic memories.
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