Bad memories can haunt us for a long time, and in some cases, the impact of such painful experiences can last a lifetime. However, it is possible to bid adieu to such memories that cause stress and even induce insomnia in some individuals.

Fear memories are developed in response to dangerous situations, however, not all such memories are beneficial to our survival, reveals a new study conducted by the researchers at the University of California, Riverside. The formation of these fear memories strengthens the connection between neurons in the brain. So, weakening these connections can help in erasing the memories, the research published Thursday in the journal, Neuron, reveals. 

“In the brain, neurons communicate with each other through synaptic connections, in which signals from one neuron are transmitted to another neuron by means of neurotransmitters,” lead author of the study, Jun-Hyeong Cho, was quoted as saying in an article published by the varsity. Cho works as an assistant professor of molecular, cell, and systems biology at the varsity. The findings of the research — conducted using the mouse as a model — offers insight into the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and specific phobias. According to the National Centre for PTSD, about 7.8 percent of Americans experience PTSD.

But this is not the only study that reminds about the movie, “The Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind,” based on a book with the same title. In the movie, the protagonists — Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet — try to erase the memory of a tumultuous relationship by undergoing an experimental scientific procedure. The movie has its own share of lighter moments; however, in real life, relationship issues can have lasting effects on mental health. Similarly, childhood bullying or a traumatic past is also difficult to get over.

Another research carried out by the research groups from the Columbia University Medical Center and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University (The Neuro) underlined how individual memories — that are stored on the same neuron — could be manipulated separately. The findings of the study that gave new insights about memory retention can also be used in future to cure neurological and psychological disorders. 

In a study published in 2014 in journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the researchers suggested a simple strategy to reduce the negative effects of these memories. “Looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there or what the weather was like, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with a negative memory,” psychology professor Florin Dolcos of the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, who led the research at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, said.

The strategy works better than other emotion-regulation strategies like suppression — which can increase anxiety and depression in the long-term — or reappraisal — that requires an individual to look at a situation differently — according to the researchers. However, reappraisal can be cognitively demanding.