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Life has ups and downs, reminding more or less of an emotional rollercoaster; but some memories stay in your memory way longer than the others. Emotional memories of traumatic life events (physical or mental), especially cases of accidents or serious illnesses are stored in a particularly robust way by the brain which makes effective treatment very difficult. It’s common sense that such a memory stays in your memory very intense, but now researchers at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have conducted a study which pins out the chemical reasons for this.

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These days is “post-traumatic stress disorder” is one “hot” diagnosis, being on a lot of people’s lips. However, it is by no means a modern disorder; it always occurs when people are put into extreme and really stressful situations.Also, it is known that emotional memories of both a positive and a negative kind are stored by our brain in a particularly robust way.

As an effect, these memories have a significant effect on our behaviour and, in the case of adverse memories, they can place considerable restrictions on the way we go about our lives. What this means is that such a person would tend to avoid certain places, certain people or just doing certain things. Such is an impact of these memories that they’re not just about the past, but about the present and also the future. Don’t buy it? Well, Isabelle Mansuy, Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at ETH Zurich and of Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences at the University of Zurich, and her research group have now shown that the enzyme calcineurin and the gene regulation factor Zif268 decisively determine the intensity of emotional memories. You really should buy it now.

Mansuy says

“This process is not final and absolute, since the priority list can change again.”

Karsten Baumgärtel, a post-doctoral researcher in Mansuy’s group, stresses that this is a big difference between emotional memories and learned knowledge.

“It is entirely possible for facts to vanish completely from the memory, whereas in extreme cases emotional recollections remain stored for a whole lifetime. Active intervention is necessary to reduce the priority level of negative memories.”