Fear memories can be overcome during sleep, researchers say

The Washington Post:

It can take only an instant for fear to take hold in the brain: a fear of snakes after being bitten by one, or anxiety around bodies of water after witnessing a drowning.

Overcoming that fear can take a long time, but now researchers are saying it can be done in your sleep. Scientists at Northwestern University say they have lowered levels of fear in people by using certain odors to trigger and rechannel frightening memories into harmless ones during a deep slumber.

“Sleep sort of stamps memories in more strongly,” said neurologist Jay Gottfried, senior author of the study, which was scheduled to be published online Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience. “That’s when a lot of memory formation can take place.”

“Extinction learning is typically known to be a new memory that essentially overwrites the fear memory,” said New York University’s Elizabeth Phelps, a psychologist and fear-conditioning researcher who was not involved in the study.

Read the whole story: The Washington Post

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