Found: A Possible Link Between Emotional Memories & Sensory Triggers

By Andrew Moseman | August 6, 2010 2:31 pm

BrainDrawingIf there’s a certain smell or sound that instantly brings back traumatic memories, it could be because those memories are stored—at least in part—in brain regions associated with the input of your senses, according to a study this week in Science.

Neuroscientist Benedetto Sacchetti went looking in rat brains for the neural connections between the senses and intense memories.

Each sense, including sound, smell and vision, has a primary and a secondary sensory cortex area in the brain. The primary cortex sends sensory information to the secondary cortex, which then connects to emotional and memory areas of the brain [Science News].

In the experiments, Sacchetti and colleagues first trained their test rats to connect the painful memory of an electric shock with a particular sight, sound, or smell. Once trained, the rats froze in fear upon hearing, seeing, or smelling the signal. Then the scientists damaged that secondary sensory cortex for the sense in question. Afterward the rats happily ignored the signal, their brains apparently no longer able to connect the sensation to the traumatic memory.

How, though, can we know that the rats became brave because they lost the particular connection between one sound and one memory?

In all these experiments, rats with lesions were still able to form new fear memories, suggesting that the sensory cortices are needed to store, but not create, emotional memories [LiveScience].

Neuroscientist Norman Weinberger countered that the study can’t say whether these secondary cortices are the sole areas connected to strong, emotional memories. Memory is difficult to restrain.

“What is the big story of the 21st century is that primary and even secondary cortices appear to be sites that are likely to store memories,” Weinberger says. “And there’s no part of the brain which is immune from memory storage of some kind” [Science News].

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Related Content:
80beats: The Chemistry of Instinct: Here’s What Makes Mice Freeze in Fear
80beats: Study: The Brains of Storytellers And Their Listeners Actually Sync Up
DISCOVER: The Brain: The 4 Stages of Fear, Attacked-By-a-Mountain-Lion Edition
DISCOVER: The Brain: The Primitive, Complicated, Essential Emotion Called Fear

Image: flickr / perpetualplum

  • Rhacodactylus

    Very “Sunshine of the Eternally Spotless Mind,” how long till I can fry the memories associated with an ex?

  • Frank the Tank.

    Those ‘ex etches’ are relics from our primitive past. Pheromones served a binding function between partners, essentially causing addiction to one another. Those clutch gut feelings you get when seperated from a lover are physical withdrawls, driving you back to the person you’re hooked on. When it’s all over, you have to go cold turkey until the stomach ache fades.

    When I broke up with my last heroine I cleaned my sheets with scented detergent, removed any associative scents from my space relating to her, and then hooked up with another girl (to cover the pheromonal residue left behind by the last one..)

    Just because breakups suck doesnt mean you cant entertain in a clean apartment.

  • Jennifer Angela

    Consider this: If you can´t forget about somebody, it IS emotional (it is obviously something unconscious you are both denying, or at least one of you is – the one who looks for a new woman). I NEVER had to cover up ANY smells of any ex – boyfriend (or dispose of items he had bought for me, or clean up the place like a cleaning company, …) and didn´t miss him anyway. I never had any stomach aches or in fact ANY aches due to the end of a relationship (I only had them within a relationship after a fight, or before exams). But that´s because I REALLY didn´t miss him! Just admit to yourself you miss that woman – it´s not the end of the world! Apologise, buy her some flowers, take her on a holiday trip – that might do the trick! (After all women love apologies that are at least apparently genuine, they love little gifts and women love a sudden short change of environment – yes, a holiday – I would know, because I am a woman.)

  • Frank the Tank.

    Kinda hard to talk to her when she had my bosses package in her mouth. Maybe she was just trying to convey her feelings to me.

    I am honest with my partners, I practice safe sex, and I don’t suscribe to our collective need to breed. So what is wrong with that? If half of the sheeple were more honest with themselves, there would be a hell of alot less of them overpopulating the planet.


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