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Swedish research proves Sigmund Freud right

Karen Holst · 4 Jul 2011, 12:16

Published: 04 Jul 2011 12:16 GMT+02:00

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According to new research from Lund University, in southern sweden, it is possible to control and even deliberately forget memories.

This new knowledge could be life-changing for patients suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“(Freud) was right in that there is a particular way we can control our memory,” Psychology researcher Gerd Thomas Waldhauser told The Local.

The idea that humans can control their memories erupted in controversy within the field ever since the great Freud argued it in the early 1900s.

Freud's theory was based on major assumptions while new theories, better theories, emerged related to childhood memory supression and memory development.

“He had no experimental evidence and at that time there was a big debate going on about the reconstruction of repressed memories not always being correct,” Waldhauser said.

"In our laboratory, we can now show that intentional attempts to forget, or suppress particular information or experiences can indeed lead to later forgetting."

The major breakthrough is finding that the brain uses the same area for inhibition of memory as it does for inhibition in motor skill response.

"It's quite important to have established this link. It hasn't been done before, it hasn't been known," said Waldhauser, who added that his findings resulted from very controlled experiments with results tough to explain otherwise.

Using word association and the electroencephalogram (EEG), a sophisticated brain imaging technique, Waldhauser proved that the same area of the brain which controls motor impulses and selective attention is activated when a person attempts to forget something.

For example, if a person sees a flower pot falling from the table, they will reflexively catch it; however, if it is a falling cactus, they will choose not to catch it.

"This link means that people can actually train themselves to forget memories that are too overwhelming or intrusive just like they can train themselves how to physically react," said Waldhauser, who has worked with various theories and experiments related to this find for six years.

The experiment involved hours of word association work, asking participants to learn random material such as "car is to banana". Once thoroughly learned, they were told to no longer remember certain word pairings while retaining others through repititious testing.

"We found that the words we asked subjects to forget, such as banana, were remembered less or forgotten more than words we did not ask them to supress," explained Waldhauser to The Local.

Although he said more research is needed regarding the long-term outcome of forgetting traumatic memories, such as the physiological effects, the Lund researcher already suggests a few clinical benefits of such a find.

Story continues below…

"It might be a helpful intervention tool in the short term for people dealing with depression or post-traumatic stress. It can help them gain back control of their memories," Waldhauser said.

People suffering from depression might be helped by learning to forget certain aspects that keep them spinning in a vicious cycle of negative thinking patterns, thus helping them break the circle.

The same idea can be applied to post-traumatic stress syndrome patients who are so overwhelmed with traumatic memories that it interrupts their daily living.

Waldhauser told The Local that thus far his research has been positively received amongst his global peers.

Karen Holst (kholstmedia@gmail.com)

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Your comments about this article

19:38 July 4, 2011 by zeero
How come simple things that everyone know about always need a lot of money and confirmation in SE.. mmm...
07:45 July 5, 2011 by karex
@zeero That's not because it's Sweden, that's because it's science and that's how you satisfy scientific requirements.
08:46 July 5, 2011 by J. L. Belmar
They just discovered the luke warm water, the hole for the doughnuts, the black thread and the cups for leftys. All with our taxes.

By the way, Mrs. Karen Holst, in English, when you write the name of a country, you write it with a capital letter at the beginning. So, it is not "in southern sweden", but "in southern Sweden". Got it? Your article is a very bad mixture of the inverted pyramid technique for writing news. I wonder where The Local finds its staff.
09:00 July 5, 2011 by Rick Methven
@J L Belmar

Criticism of the the author of this post on her writing from one who is incapable of stringing together a sentence that is understandable or grammatically correct.

Pot calling the kettle?
10:59 July 5, 2011 by Max Reaver
this kind of research is a waste of tax payers' money
12:24 July 5, 2011 by salalah
This experiment would have been fun to watch..

"Do you remember a banana?"

12:09 July 6, 2011 by cogito
@Rick # 4

Some posters write in their second or third language.

The author of the article, on the other hand, calls herself a journalist. Therefore some familiarity with grammar and punctuation is to be expected.

Surely even you are capable of understanding that posters who do not have English as their first language are not required to write perfect English in an informal discussion.

And since you are such a linguistic perfectionist, shall I list the dozens of examples of your own illiterate posts?

Several of your howlers are much worse than the poster you are bashing.

Pots, kettles....
18:31 July 6, 2011 by T Mann
@ J. L. Belmar (Professor Higgins perhaps).

As you lecture people on writing in English, I'd love to see how you write in Swedish!

By the way, Professor: It is LUKEWARM and not luke warm !!! (Luke is only used as a noun: name or evangelist - or adjective meaning evangelistic).
15:35 July 8, 2011 by jglammi
This was not Freud's theory.
16:27 July 8, 2011 by Ron Pavellas
Now I have to forget all these comments.
09:59 July 19, 2011 by Akane
06:50 July 26, 2011 by Da Goat
Bugger I have forgotten what I was gonna write!
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