The brain forgets on purpose, two regions are pivotal in forgetting

on 16 September 2018
I keep on forgetting

There is a big difference in choosing to forget and normal or age-related forgetfulness but just as important are the reasons behind why we may want to forget . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have, at times, been asked to use hypnosis to forget someone, usually, it is the subject of a lost love, normally relating to the end of a romantic relationship. I guess when you lose a loved one to death; forgetting them is the last thing on your mind! However, I am normally reluctant to do this because I do not believe it is an appropriate way to deal with life's emotions and there may be unknown implications that lay ahead. 

That said, there are times when it can or may be useful to forget, for example, memories relating to an enforced trauma like rape or sexual abuse, as well as the deleterious effect of cumulative trauma, e.g. a well-meaning parent telling you that you are stupid or asking, "why can't you be like your brother?" The major difference between this kind of emotional experience and the end of a love relationship, through a breakup, is, I believe, that the love relationship has many of the attributes, if not all, of a grief experience and thus, require the same kind of resolution, i.e. the grief process. And when it comes to parental abuse, you are not necessarily forgetting the person, just memories of them, relating to the trauma.

The two areas involved in this trial (hippocampus and prefrontal cortex) are also ones implicated in many life challenging experiences, e.g. anxiety, stress, depression etc. In healthy people, the prefrontal regions help to regulate the amygdala and its neighbours. However, in people with anxiety disorders, including PTSD (mentioned in this study), it is the way in which stress hormones affect prefrontal functioning, that causes and/or interferes with the normal regulation and functioning of the brain/mind's threat detection system. Although not scientific, hypnotherapy has a long history, which is well documented through client testimonials and some research, of helping people change their memories.

To consider this more closely, it is useful to understand that all behaviour is a consequence of memories, mostly collected within the client's current life with perhaps the exception of some innate survival behaviours (although, even they are memory based, e.g. genetic memory). It is, however, how these memories are interpreted by our brain that determines how they later express themselves. If the expression is good, as in normal to vastly exciting, then there will more likely be a desire to repeat the experience (the desire being created, chemically in the brain, at a level below consciousness). If the expression is a bad one, it is likely to initiate a fear-based response. This will usually lead to avoidance and as long as you avoid the stimuli, you will not experience the problem. In some sense memory based avoidance is not that far from a subconscious form of forgetting. In this case, the forgetting occurs by default, perhaps as a consequence of remembering the avoidance strategy!

In hypnotherapy I use two stages in the process of forgetting, 1) remembering to forget and 2) forgetting to remember. Stage 1 requires a specific posthypnotic suggestion that helps the client to remember to forget and stage 2 leads to one actually forgetting to remember. Which is something we actually do quite naturally; for example, have you ever forgot to remember your anniversary? It can also be used in things like smoking cessation, where one forgets to have a cigarette with your morning coffee or forgets they have a phobia, say of spiders, flying, needles etc. Any fear-based response has to rely on some form of response that is held in memory. 

The coffee, cigarette response occurs when one stimulus is paired with another, a mild form of classical conditioning. From an illogical perspective, this is where two things we enjoy form a support network. Coffee, at the moment, is deemed to have some benefits to health, whereas cigarettes have none. However, the chemical effect of the combination, a cause of reward system activation, allows us to ignore the harmful effect of smoking. The fact that the cost of smoking is felt incrementally over a lifetime helps us ignore the real cost and, also, that it takes an awfully long time, on average, to kill you, makes it important to quit but not urgent!

So, if you find yourself, at some point in your life, having a desire to forget something, please remember; Hypnotherapy!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life training methods there is. Most of the behaviours that make life challenging are a result of memory expression and they are subconscious in nature. So it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the peculiarities of the subconscious mind. If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to take your life, and your business, to the next level, then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here


The Research: 

Researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the University Hospital of Gießen and Marburg, in collaboration with colleagues from Bonn, the Netherlands, and the UK, have analysed what happens in the brain when humans want to voluntarily forget something. They identified two areas of the brain -- the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus -- whose activity patterns are characteristic for the process of forgetting. They measured the brain activity in epilepsy patients who had electrodes implanted in the brain for the purpose of surgical planning. The team headed by Carina Oehrn and Professor Nikolai Axmacher outlines the results in the journal Current Biology, published online on 6 September 2018.

"In the past century, memory research focused primarily on understanding how information can be successfully remembered," says Nikolai Axmacher, Head of the Neuropsychology Department in Bochum. "However, forgetting is crucial for emotional wellbeing, and it enables humans to focus on a task."

Rhythmic brain activity and word test

The researchers recorded the brain activity of 22 patients, who had electrodes implanted either in the prefrontal cortex or in a deeper structure, the hippocampus. They presented the participants with a number of words, asking them either to remember or to forget them. A test showed that the participants did indeed remember the words that they were supposed to forget less well than the words they were supposed to remember.

As they conducted the analysis, the researchers paid close attention to the synchronous rhythmic activity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. During active forgetting, oscillations in both areas of the brain showed characteristic changes in specific frequency bands. In the prefrontal cortex, oscillations between three and five Hertz were more pronounced, i.e. in the so-called theta range. They were coupled with increased oscillations at higher frequencies, namely between 6 and 18 Hertz, in the hippocampus.

The forgetting frequency

"The data showed us that during active forgetting, the activity in the hippocampus, an important region for memory, is regulated by the prefrontal cortex," explains Carina Oehrn, who was initially involved in the research project in Bochum and now works at the University Hospital in Marburg. "The activity in the hippocampus is not just suppressed; rather, it is switched to a different frequency, in which currently processed information is no longer encoded," continues the neuroscientist.

Potential therapy approach for post-traumatic stress disorder

The team believes that research into voluntary forgetting might constitute the basis of potential new therapies of post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes patients to re-live negative emotional memories again and again.

"The prefrontal cortex, i.e. the brain region that exerts active control over memory processes, may be activated for therapy purposes through non-invasive magnetic or electrical stimulation," as Oehrn outlines an initial idea. "Still, the benefits of this treatment will have to be tested in future studies."


Story Source:

Materials provided bRuhr-University BochumNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Carina R. Oehrn, Juergen Fell, Conrad Baumann, Timm Rosburg, Eva Ludowig, Henrik Kessler, Simon Hanslmayr, Nikolai Axmacher. Direct Electrophysiological Evidence for Prefrontal Control of Hippocampal Processing during Voluntary ForgettingCurrent Biology, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.07.042