Get ready for the over-the-top headlines. Have the memories of that emotional breakup erased. Bad memories from that beach vacation? Just get it replaced by a good one. The ethics of doing that would be jaw-dropping.
A new study, published in Nature, does show that your emotions can be altered. It’s a highly complex experiment and could be eventually used as a treatment pathway for PTSD and other severe mental disorders. Sorry, the clinic to get over the bad breakup is way down the list for scientists.
What the research showed is a clear pathway between our memories and the emotional weight we assign to them. Think of it like the spot you had a wreck. Most people go out of their way to avoid the area or become hyper-vigilant in that spot.
This experiment involved genetically engineered mice, and any applications to humans is years away. Susumu Tonegawa of MIT, led the research team and spoke to reporters. “We have no intention…to use this kind of technology in order to alter normal, healthy people’s minds.”
It is really cool science though. The team had to genetically alter the brain cells of the mice so that neurons would respond to pulse light. For the experiment, they went on opposites ends of the spectrum. Fear was induced through shocks to the paw, and the pleasure center was introduced via a female mouse.
Of course, the mice quickly learned to avoid the area where they got shocked, and sought out the area with the female mouse. No word on if the mice like both.
The research team then used the blue laser pulse light to essentially turn the brain cells on or off. It was cut and dry too. Once the blue light was shone onto the mouse, the fear they had of the shock area was gone.
Researchers said they chose the fear and pleasure associations for a clear delineation in the test results. Human emotions, and even mice emotions, are seldom as cut-and-dry as the standard shock therapy. We live in a complex world, and emotions are often highly charged.
The team is hoping that their experiment gets picked up by other scientists and further studies take place. If you could help a soldier that is disabled due to PTSD with a therapy born out of this, it would be a revolutionary step in mental health care.