Remember in the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” when exes played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet tried to erase each other from their memories? It’s a plot line that you probably thought could only ever happen in a rom-com, dreamed up somewhere by far-reaching screenwriters.
But as it turns out, groundbreaking new research has brought us one step closer to making memory erasure a reality.
Neuroscientists at the French National Center for Scientific Research and ESPCI ParisTech recently completed a study where they were able to manipulate the memories of lab mice while they were sleeping, turning bad memories into good ones.
Here’s how it worked: First, scientists observed the mice as they wandered around an exploration area during the day, noting their brain activity at each location. Some places had treats and others didn’t, so the mice had different reactions at each location.
Later, as the mice slept, the researchers went into their brains and placed an electrode on a neuron linked to a specific location. While the mice were thinking about that place, the scientists hooked the other end of the electrode into the brain’s “reward center,” making the mouse associate that location with a reward.
Simply put, the scientists tricked the mice into thinking they had been rewarded at a specific location that actually didn’t have any treats. When the mice woke up, they ran to the location that was manipulated with positive memories, proving that the experiment worked.
One of the study’s authors, Dr. Karim Benchenane, told The Huffington Post that the method could work for humans in the future by targeting trauma. "For humans, you would need a way to detect during sleep the periods during which the traumatic experiences are reactivated," he explained. "It is likely that it will be soon possible to do so with fMRI.”
Bottom line: It’ll be a while before the technique is tested on humans, but the scientists are hopeful that it could one day be used to help people suffering from trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. Or, ya know, anyone who just wants to forget about their sucky exes.