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A surprise makes memories wobbly

Drug that interferes with recollection works only when people face a twist

An element of surprise may be the key to whitewashing a painful memory. People who encountered something unexpected were better able to shake a troubling association, a new laboratory study finds. The results, published in the Feb. 15 Science, bring scientists closer to being able to weaken traumatic memories with help from a drug.

Understanding how the brain forms and reforms traumatic memories might lead to treatments that would help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. “The idea that an original memory could have the sting taken out of it — that’s been very appealing,” says psychiatrist Roger Pitman of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the research.

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