The Neural Mechanisms Underlying Memory Formation

1717 Words Apr 5th, 2016 7 Pages
Trying to forget the past may inadvertently cause amnesia for the present. This surprising possibility follows from the neural mechanisms underlying memory formation and motivated forgetting. Decades of research on memory formation show that the hippocampus is essential for constructing new episodic memories. Hippocampal damage irreversibly harms people’s ability to store new memories, causing profound amnesia for life’s events1,2. Reversibly disturbing the hippocampus through optogenetic, electrical and pharmacological interventions temporarily disrupts memory formation3,4. Research on motivated forgetting, on the other hand, indicates that people often downregulate hippocampal activity through cognitive control when they are reminded of an unwelcome event and try to stop retrieval5–11. Together, these findings imply a striking possibility: if stopping (suppressing) episodic retrieval reduces hippocampal activity, this may broadly disturb all hippocampal functions, including—critically—processes necessary to form and retain new, stable memories. Retrieval suppression may, in essence, induce a transient ‘virtual lesion’, leaving in its wake, an amnesic shadow for any experiences—whether related or not to the memory being suppressed—that simply have the misfortune of happening near in time to efforts to forget.
To test this hypothesis, we measured how well people remembered experiences near in time to their efforts to retrieve or suppress an unrelated memory. To induce…
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