Using a combination of artificial intelligence and brain-scanning technology, a team comprising of researchers from Great Britain, Japan, and the U.S. may have discovered a way to unconsciously remove specific fear memories.
The team was led by Dr. Ai Kozumi, from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto and the Centre of Information and Neural Networks in Osaka - both in Japan.
The results were published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
The team used a new technique called "Decoded Neurofeedback" to read and identify fear memories. The technique uses brain scanning to monitor brain activity and identify complex patterns of activity that indicate a fear memory.
Researchers created fear memories in 17 healthy individuals by administering an electric shock every time they saw a certain computer image.
Dr. Ben Seymour, of the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and one of the researchers on the team, explains how using artificial intelligence image recognition enables scientists to recognize the content of neurological information picked up by brain scanners.
When they were able to identify the neurological pattern for representing fears, researchers tried to override the bad memory by giving their subjects a reward.
"We realized that even when the volunteers were simply resting, we could see brief moments when the pattern of fluctuating brain activity had partial features of the specific fear memory, even though the volunteers weren't consciously aware of it," says Dr. Seymour.
"Because we could decode these brain patterns quickly, we decided to give subjects a reward - a small amount of money - every time we picked up these features of the memory," he continues.
The team repeated the procedure for 3 days. They told the participants that the reward depended on their brain activity, but they did not tell them how.