Nowadays, memory removal is possible only in fiction films and works of literature, where a hero has a superpower to erase some recollections about past events in order to conceal some facts about the mission. Realization of such an ability in real life presents a matter of interest not only for children, who are engaged in watching superhero cartoons but also for scientists. Psychologists pay attention to this idea too, as they consider it to be an efficient solution for a great number of personal problems in case it is applied to a traumatic experience. At first glance, it may seem optimistic – whether there are no sorrowful and frightening events in the past, a person is significantly healthier in the context of mental well-being. However, removing memories associated with traumas may result in multiple negative consequences, such as a total inability to resist in case of hardships. For this reason, this procedure should not be implemented in present-day science development.
Traumatic Experience as a Part of Personal Growth
First of all, it is worth mentioning that bitter experience appears to be an incentive for self-development and improving personal traits of character. Predominantly, people who have encountered and overcome ordeals become extremely resilient and morally strong regardless of the severity of a situation. For instance, the study conducted by Dawwas et al. (2017) may provide support for this statement. The researchers aim to “determine the relationship between traumatic experience, posttraumatic stress disorder, resilience, and posttraumatic growth among adolescents in Gaza Strip” (Dawwas et al., 2017, p. 1). They engaged 400 schoolchildren, including an equal number of both male and female participants, aged from 15 to 18. According to Dawwas et al., the results of the study depict that “there was a statistically significant positive relationship between traumatic events due to war and PTSD and negative correlation with PTG and resilience” (2017, p. 1). Therefore, people, who have encountered sorrowful situations in the past, are highly likely to experience some consequences. However, there is a considerable proportion of victims who tend to improve their resistibility.
In order to get a deeper insight into this issue, it is essential to draw attention to other articles. For instance, Caplan et al. attempt to review “the evidence for changes to self-identity after traumatic brain injury (TBI) in adults and investigated associations between self-concept changes and neurocognitive and psychosocial functioning” (2016, p. E12). They managed to reveal the relationship between negative changes and self-concept decline. However, the researchers also highlight that there is a considerable number of cases that depict the positive effect of overcoming difficulties. Fifteen students have been analyzed in this article, and some of them demonstrated “stability in self-concept and positive changes to sense of self” (Caplan et al., 2016, p. E12). In addition, researchers mark that “levels of self-esteem and personality characteristics did not significantly differ between participants with TBI and orthopedic/trauma controls” (Caplan et al., 2016, p. E12). The results confirm the aforementioned statement again and admit the beneficial influence of traumatic experiences in some situations.
The severity of ordeals which an individual has to encounter may vary. Some situations appear to be unacceptable and extremely difficult to overcome. It is undeniable that this experience leads to psychological disorders. Nevertheless, the removal of sorrowful recollections would not contribute to solutions to such situations (Finsterwald et al., 2015). It is impossible to avoid disappointments, failure, and threats of life in general. Consequently, applying this procedure would have a negative effect to a large extent (Lewis-Peacock et al., 2018). People are highly likely to become unable to resist complicated situations and make sufficient decisions. Furthermore, it would become essential to apply memory removal on a regular basis to prevent unnecessary stress. The last argument against establishing such technology regards the personal growth of an individual. If a person forgets their own mistakes and other negative experience, they will become unable to make conclusions about life challenges, and their intellectual capabilities will significantly decline. This way, memory removal would not be helpful for finding appropriate solutions for arising problems, but lead to the improvement of learning skills and resilience.
The Possibility of Excessive Use
Moreover, the fact that this technology may be used excessively and for a purpose other than intended should be taken into consideration too. Elaborating memory removal procedure is highly likely to become a temptation for applying addressing personal motives. For instance, some governments may be willing the population to forget particular events, or a criminal may erase the evidence without the necessity to murder a person. There is no guarantee that this technology would be applied to fulfill faithful goals. Therefore, it can become a dangerous weapon in the hands of an individual, who is ready to sacrifice their honor in order to reach their ambitions.
Apart from the concerns reviewed earlier, establishing a technology that is capable of removing recollections may cause considerable ethical issues. First of all, the criteria of its applying are difficult to be determined. There is no fulfilling and comprehensive response whether it should be used or not, though the consequences are serious. Second, it violates human rights, as memory removal implies interfering with the private life of an individual. Referring to the previous paragraph, it also can be applied against a person’s will, which is unethical too.
The idea of erasing some memories may appear impracticable in case the occasion is known among the broad public. According to Lavazza, “those who opted for oblivion, even in the full exercise of their autonomy, would be likely to become detached from reality in an ethically unacceptable way” (2015, para. 36). The threat that any recollection which is unwelcome can be erased is highly likely to result in misinforming the whole society about particular occasions. Such possibility will contribute to the spreading of lies comprehensively. In addition, people will not be able to distinguish the truth or false.
Today, technologies intended to erase particular recollections are at the early stage of development and are not presented in the final form. Nevertheless, its establishing appears to be a matter of multiple discussions, and a considerable number of concerns are expressed. Despite all the probable benefits, such a procedure predominantly leads to negative consequences. For instance, it may threaten the personal growth of an individual, as, instead of coping with stress, they may apply memory removal technology. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that it will be used rationally. Definitely, some people will be eager to take advantage of this possibility and fulfill their own interests. Memory removal also violates human rights and individual autonomy and does not match the moral norms of modern society.
Caplan, B., Bogner, J., Brenner, L., Beadle, E. J., Ownsworth, T., Fleming, J., & Shum, D. (2016). The impact of traumatic brain injury on self-identity: A systematic review of the evidence for self-concept changes. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 31(2), E12-E25. Web.
Dawwas, M. K., Aziz, A., & Thabet, M. (2017). The relationship between traumatic experience, posttraumatic stress disorder, resilience and posttraumatic growth among adolescents in Gaza Strip. JOJ Nurse Health Care. Global Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 71-80.
Finsterwald C., Steinmetz A., B., Travaglia, A., & Alberini, C. M. (2015). From memory impairment to posttraumatic stress disorder-like phenotypes: The critical role of an unpredictable second traumatic experience. Journal of Neuroscience, 35(48), 15903-15915.
Lavazza, A. (2015). Erasing traumatic memories: When context and social interests can outweigh personal autonomy. Philos Ethics Humanit Med, 10(3). Web.
Lewis-Peacock, J. A., Kessler, Y., Oberauer, K. (2018). The removal of information from working memory. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1424(1), 33-44. Web.