Traumas are not remembered, they are re-lived: Study
Ever wondered why bad or sad memories become more manageable over time while traumatic experiences, if left untreated, keep haunting a person?
Researchers at Yale University and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have found the explanation to why post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throws a person into the thick of the nightmarish event, triggering flashbacks or night terrors.
In their study which involved brain scans of a group of people suffering from PTSD, the researchers noted that sad memories, such as the death of loved ones, engaged the hippocampus – the part of the brain that categorises and files away memories.
But when the study subjects were retold their traumatic experiences, such as sexual attacks or school shootings, the hippocampus is not engaged.
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai neuroscientist Daniela Schiller told The New York Times: "The brain doesn't look like it's in a state of memory; it looks like it is a state of present experience."
She also pointed out that PTSD therapies help sufferers re-organise their memories so that the traumatic events is seen as a distant memory, compartmentalising it away from the present.
Traumatic memories seem to engage the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), which is linked to daydreaming – PCC is not a memory region.
University of Western Ontario PTSD research director Ruth Lanius noted: "A soldier, if they hear fireworks, they may run and take cover. Traumatic memories are not remembered, they are relived and re-experienced."
If research can find the biological markers for PTSD, or identify experiences that constitute a trauma, treatment can be enhanced to better suit each individual and improve effectiveness.