WE ALL have memories we would rather forget – and it is possible, if you try hard enough.
It is easy to think of memories as something you can actively strengthen, whereas forgetting is a passive process. But we have started to discover it can be intentional too.
Perhaps the easiest way to forget something is simply to try to suppress a memory. Jeremy Manning at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, has found that just telling people to “push thoughts out of their head” is enough to make them forget lists of words they have learned to associate with particular cues. “We don’t know how, but people seem to know how to do it.”
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This seems especially paradoxical because we also know that rehearsing memories helps to strengthen them. Suppression has been linked to decreased activity in the hippocampus, so we may be unknowingly reducing our hippocampal activity by focusing on the present, says Justin Hulbert at Bard College, New York.
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