You know that irrational fear of clowns you have because one accidentally popped a balloon animal in your face when you were a kid? If a new technique developed by Swedish scientists had existed back then, that fear might never have developed.
Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have found that it's possible to interrupt the formation of memories during a crucial stage when they're being cemented in your brain by proteins. In fact, it seems that memories associated with fears can be replaced entirely — if caught before this consolidation process can finish.
By displaying a photograph and simultaneously administering a small electric shock, the researchers were able to induce formation of a fear memory in test subjects. Then, by showing half of the subjects the same photo without the shock repeatedly during the consolidation process, they were able to stop a sense of fear from being permanently associated with the picture.
There's still a lot of testing to be done, but the scientists believe that this technique could eventually be used to interrupt the association of fear with other memories, such as witnessing the horrors of war, that might otherwise lead to disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unlike scary clowns, that's no laughing matter.
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