Learn to forget: how the brain forgets on purpose

Learn to forget: how the brain forgets on purpose

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 payed 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 posttraumatic stress disorder

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

Source: This is how the brain forgets on purpose