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A surprise makes memories wobbly

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

1:55pm, February 14, 2013

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.

Memories are not written in neural stone. Recent results in animals and humans have shown that once called to mind, painful memories’ emotional edges can be blunted. Experiments have

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