Can our memory be manipulated?

BU Experts
4 min readMar 22, 2019

Neuroscientist Steve Ramirez explains how memory works and then how to hijack it

Image source: Reddit I/AmA

Is it possible to overwrite bad memories with good ones — or even erase certain memories to improve mental health? According to Steve Ramirez, the answer is yes. As Director of The Ramirez Group, Assistant Professor of Boston University Psychological & Brain Sciences, and faculty member at the Boston University Center for Memory & Brain and Center for Systems Neuroscience, his work focuses on how to suppress bad memories by activating good ones. He did this by locating memory traces in mice and exploring how to reactivate these traces, and implant false ones.

Here are the top 9 takeaways from Steve’s Reddit I/AmA discussing how memory works and the therapeutic value of memory manipulation for treating mental health conditions.

Image source: 2fos2furious Instagram account

1) Researchers are developing a full-fledged map of where memories are stored in the brain.

Steve discusses how memories are distributed throughout the brain, how to create “maps” of what these memories look like — and which areas of the brain are the most important for storing memories.

2) As long as something in the brain can misfire or miswire — neuroscientists can find a way to fix it.

Steve projects that researchers may one day be able to pinpoint and erase the cause of mental health conditions including depression and PTSD.

3) Steve’s lab is working to make a blueprint for the therapeutic value of memory manipulation.

The end-goal of this blueprint would be to artificially manipulate and dial-down the emotional pain associated with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

4) It is possible to erase memories.

Steve explains how to erase memories both temporarily and long-term.

5) Eliminating bad memories isn’t all fun and games. It can be dangerous.

Steve advises that just as doctors wouldn’t just give out anti-depressants to the entire population, in the future doctors should only administer memory manipulation to those who need it the most.

6) Ethics is a huge part of the equation.

Steve emphasizes the importance of memory manipulation being done in a clinical setting.

7) Neuroscientists of the future should get as much hands-on research experience as possible.

Steve shares important advice for aspiring brain explorers and highlights the value of “being within the belly of the research beast.”

8) A workout for your mind: Physical exercise also exercises your brain.

Steve reassures Redditors that you don’t have to rely on Sudoku to strengthen your memory.

9) It’s possible to be on good terms with your ex.

Unlike a Redditor who asked Steve, “how can I erase the memory of the venomous, evil snake that is my ex?” — Steve is on great terms with his ex (even after he kicked off his TED Talk by discussing their breakup).

Image source: 2fos2furious Instagram account

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Steve Ramirez on Twitter at @okaysteve and follow the Ramirez Lab on Instagram at 2fos2furious. Follow Boston University College of Arts & Sciences at @BU_CAS and the Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering at @KilachandCenter on Twitter.



BU Experts

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: