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Neural Road to Repression: Brain may block out undesired memories

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9:17am, January 7, 2004

Memory requires collaboration between different brain structures. So does forgetting, a new study suggests.

Two neural regions join forces to enable people to suppress unwanted memories, say psychologist Michael C. Anderson of the University of Oregon in Eugene and his colleagues. The team has scanned the brains of volunteers who were asked to forget previously viewed words. As volunteers try to do so, tissue near the front of their brains, in the prefrontal cortex, dampens activity in the hippocampus, an inner-brain structure required for memory retrieval, Anderson's group finds.

These findings provide a potential brain mechanism for the voluntary form of memory repression originally proposed by Sigmund Freud, the scientists conclude in the Jan. 9 Science. Freud regarded repression as a process in which the motivated forgetting of disturbing or threatening information occurs either unconsciously or with an intentional push.

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