Sunday, April 6, 2014

Memory Dampening

Recently, I had a bit of a conversation on Twitter about memory dampening. It is a concept, within neuroethics, that is currently being discussed in my Ethics in Psychology class. Since people seemed to be interested in it, I figured I'd share some knowledge that I have, in a way more effective than 140 characters at a time.

For starters, I should probably explain what neuroethics is. Wikipedia is incredibly helpful for a basic definition of neuroehtics and it says that it "concerns the ethical, legal and social impact of neuroscience, including the ways in which neurotechnology can be used to predict or alter human behavior and the implications of our mechanistic understanding of brain function for society... integrating neuroscientific knowledge with ethical and social thought."  That doesn't do a great job of understanding what neuroethics is, if you don't have any background knowledge. So, basically, it's the ethical considerations of the use of neurotechnology (medications, treatments, etc) for various things to change how humans act or react to situations in society.

One of these things specifically is beta-blocker medications which would be used for memory dampening. Now, it's important to explain what memory dampening is because it's a complicated thing. It is not the removal of memories. It is not targeted to specific memories. It is essentially removing the pain from memories. It leaves the memories in tact, but dampens (lessens) the emotional aspect of it. However, this type of medication would have to be taken within a span of a few hours before or after a traumatic event. There is also speculation that it could provide the same results in a situation similar to that of someone with PTSD who is re-experiencing the event in their mind, with all of the emotional turmoil that was previously experienced in the initial event.

There are a lot of ethical concerns with using these types of medications. These are the questions that researchers and doctors have to be able to answer. Some of them are as follows:
-Do we selectively chose who has access to these drugs based on their susceptibility to PTSD? If so, how do we decide who is truly susceptible when the effects of "trauma" are different for everyone? What is traumatic for one person may not be for another.
-Do we allow doctors to prescribe these medications immediately after moments of trauma (ie natural disasters, assaults, etc) while the patient is unable to assess the potential risks and benefits of the medications?
-Are we okay with changing the fundamental nature memory has for the formation of individual personality, for the sake of dulling the pain of an event?
-If we use these drugs, how will people learn to deal with pain?
-How do we judge when pain becomes too much, and thus worth the use of these drugs?
-When, in treatment, do we introduce these drugs? By themselves, prior to therapy, in conjunction with therapy, or after therapy has concluded?

There are many more issues associated with these beta blocker drugs to dampen the emotional effects of memories. Obviously I can't write everything about it because then I'd have to write a book and not a blog post. But the above is a brief enough explanation to scratch the surface and allow enough understanding to be able to adequately ask questions about what is going on.

With that objective introduction out of the way, here's how I feel about it. Personally, I would never take memory dampening drugs. I do live with mild PTSD symptoms due to past experiences. But I know that my life experiences have shaped the person that I am. I would not have the view on life that my stable self has, if it weren't for the pains I have endured in my life. My mind is my most powerful weapon and my most valued possession. It is what makes me who I am.  I do what I can to constantly expand my mind, and strengthen the neuronal connections of my brain. It is for this reason that I have taken five years of French, and three years of Spanish, and want to pursue further language acquisition. This is one of the reasons why I actively pursue trying to be creative in many different ways. The more you use your brain in different ways, the stronger it becomes. I do all I can to add to my brain. Removing memories would not only take away my natural ability to deal with trouble in life, but it would also change who I am. I am primarily against the use of using memory dampening drugs, because there is a lot of bad that comes from it, and in most cases it seems the risks would outweigh the benefits.

Conversely, I can also see the beneficial side of it.For some people, traumatic experiences become so controlling over their lives that it is incredibly debilitating. For these people, I can see where the medications would be beneficial. I do feel though that it is necessary for these medications to be used in conjunction with therapy in order to attain the most beneficial coping skills to be able to go back to leading a normal life.

This is just an overview of beta blockers and how they work, and an introduction of some of the issues related to them. I have a lot more opinions about this stuff, and could go on for far longer than I probably should, so if you want to know how I feel about a more specific aspect of this stuff, please feel free to ask! You can ask in the comments here, email me at or find me on twitter: @jennmorton01

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