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Erasing bad memories sounds like something from science fiction. Yet treatments exist and new research may improve them still further

By Philip Ball   May 2009

Memories are made of this

Exposure therapy, in which bad memories or phobias are extinguished through repeated exposure to a similar but innocuous stimulus, sounds like a lazy science-fiction trope based on too much reading of A Clockwork Orange. But it seems to work, and has been used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans. More surprising is the fact that certain drugs can have the same effect: a study in 2000 showed that rats given a stimulus to evoke an unpleasant association while receiving such a drug seem to lose the bad memory forever. The effect suggests that…

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