Long maligned for his discredited theories on the meaning of dreams, Sigmund Freud at least got one thing right - the human mind can block out bad memories.
A study has found that if people try hard enough, they can forget something they do not want to remember. This was the basis of Freud's controversial theory on memory suppression, which suggested that people can be influenced by events buried too deeply in their memory to be recalled.
Scientists at Stanford University in California found that people in an experiment were able to block certain memories when asked to do so, and that scanners could identify which part of the brain was involved.
Professor John Gabrieli, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Science, said the findings showed that the blocking of unwanted memories has a biological basis. Professor Gabrieli said: "For the first time we see some mechanism that could play a role in active forgetting. It gets you past the possibility that there's nothing in the brain that would suppress a memory."
Volunteers were given pairs of unrelated words to remember and were less likely to remember the second word when specifically asked not to.
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