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Despite your best efforts, unwanted memories have a bad habit of sticking around when you don’t want them to. But a new study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review says that memories can potentially be deliberately forgotten by changing the contextual representation that are usually captured in the mind at the time the memories were initially formed.

In a simple experiment and using an fMRI to monitor brain activity, participants were shown two lists of words with list A interspersed with outdoor images to add to their mental contextual representation. After the words in list A were shown, the participants were told a command to either “forget” or “remember” list A. They were then all shown list B words but this time without any additional imagery for their contextual representation.

The participants were asked to recall words from both lists and the results showed that where individuals were told to forget list A, they had the most difficulty recalling words from this list. Interestingly as well, at the point the individuals were given the command to “forget”, the individuals looked to achieve this by actively changing the mental contextual elements they had just formed with these list A words (which was given more “context” with the additional outdoor images). In other words, they overwrote or pushed out the old contextual elements with new ones and thus making the associated memories more difficult to remember.

For us self-hackers, this adds to our assertion that your mind and memories are not permanent and are pliable to your control and manipulation – something that may prove useful to change any limiting beliefs or values you have to help improve yourself or to overcome any cognitive dissonance. Or simply used to forget any memories you feel are holding you back.

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