Title: Controlling unwanted memories

Speaker: Xiaoqing Hu, Department of Psychology, The State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Time: 13:00-14:30, December 10, 2019

Location: Room 1113, Wang Kezhen Building


All of us have memories that we do not want to revisit, such as past wrongdoings or trauma. While constructive reflections of unwanted memories may lead to personal growth, such memories can become debilitating when left uncontrolled. Deficiencies in memory control may also perpetuate the development of psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. An adaptive cognitive system thus needs to voluntarily control unwanted memories and their influences. My research aims to understand the neurocognitive processes underlying memory control, and how to help people better control unwanted memories. We investigated motivated forgetting of undesirable feedbacks regarding future adverse life events, and found that people truncated encoding of such unwanted information that lead to subsequent forgetting. We then investigated voluntary control of mnemonic awareness during retrieval of autobiographical and emotional memories, and the neural dynamics supporting retrieval suppression. Lastly, given that sleep plays a critical role in emotion and memory processes, we examined how to leverage sleep to control unwanted memories. Employing trauma film clips to induce lab-analogue trauma and a total sleep deprivation protocol, we found that post-trauma sleep facilitated adaptive processing of traumatic memories in enhancing people’s voluntary recognition while reducing involuntary intrusions. Furthermore, using the targeted memory reactivation paradigm, we can directly modify and weaken unwanted memories during sleep. This paradigm also allows us to test the putatively causal relationship between reactivation and consolidation, and the underlying neural mechanisms. Future directions and implications will be discussed.

Host: Dr. Huan Luo