Should we erase bad memories?

How gratifying would it be to erase the memory of a really embarrassing moment? It is common to want to forget something because we don’t like the thought of it. Selective memory eradication is not unattainable in the modern world. Our ability to perform this is certain, but the ethics behind it remains in question. Erasing memories is more than forgetting an awkward moment, it erases all the associations our brains have made with that awkward moment. Memories and experiences are closely tied to lessons our psyche has learned, which shapes our behavior and opinions. Without the combination of good and bad memories, the development of our identity and personality is hindered.

The ability to erase memory requires manipulation of neural circuits in the brain. Modern technology has allowed us access to the hippocampus- a central component in the brain’s memory storage- and interfere with the neurotransmitters that carry the memory and the associations the brain makes with it. 

While this innovation is revolutionary, it makes us question the ethics behind selective eradication of memory. If we chose to erase bad memories, wouldn’t we erase them all? The human experience without negative thoughts or recollections would change us in the way we think, communicate, overcome and more. Our ability to conquer bad experiences such as mistakes, embarrassing moments and awkward conversations is our source of strength.

While pleasant memories are important in maintaining a basic content and emotionally healthy state, processing them does not fortify us nearly as much as bad memories do. Both good and bad recollections are necessary in developing an identity. Previous experiences and interactions, including ones we perceive as negative, shape our behaviors, fears and opinions.  

It is commonly argued that the ability to erase negative memories is the best tool to treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Infiltrating the hippocampus to intercept neurotransmitter pathways in order to erase memories in PTSD patients. Removing this memory, however, “completely removed fear associations” in the patient’s brain. Further therapy to re-associate certain danger elements with fear. Experts argue that it is possible to “enhance relearning with drugs."

Unnatural interference with the nervous system balanced out by more interference will cause eventual long-term consequences for the patient. Curing PTSD by training the brain to digest traumatic memories in a healthy way will ultimately strengthen the patient emotionally and refrain from neurological damage in the long run.


Keren Blaunstein is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  She can be reached via email at keren.blaunstein@uconn.edu.