Scientists can turn bad memories into good ones (kind of)

Weirdly, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Men in Black might not have been that far off the mark with their memory-wiping devices. We’re not quite there yet, but while we wait, scientists have discovered a way to change bad memories into good ones.

They were particularly interested in place-specific memories, as we store memories of locations in the hippocampus while our feelings about that place are filed away in the amygdala. So there’s no neurological reason our feelings have to be tied to a particular place, and yet they often are.

As New Scientist reports, Susumo Tonegawa and his team from MIT had previously trained mice to associate a location with pain, using methods I’d personally find too brutal to administer/would rather not dwell on. (You can read more here if you’re curious.)

Using pulses of light to trigger a specific memory, they’ve now managed to manipulate male mice to associate a good memory with a place where something bad happened to them, and vice versa. (The good thing was the chance to leer at a group of female mice, in case you were wondering if science was still sexist.)

Obviously this has only been used in mice so far, but as their physiology is similar to ours, the researchers hope this could provide future (painless!) treatments for humans. If nothing else, it demonstrates that just because somewhere triggers negative associations now, it doesn’t mean it always will.

Image via Mark Sebastian’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley