Memory Modifications and Ethical Implications
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Memory is a complex mental phenomenon that connects us to our past. It allows us to learn and better navigate our world on a day-to-day basis, but more importantly, it helps us to form an idea of who we are as a person, a sense of self, or an identity. Still, we forget most of what we perceive at any moment, and even that which we do remember is extremely fallible. The complexity of memories is that they are stored in the brain in such a way that they are vulnerable to new information and constantly reformed through a process known as reconsolidation. While this happens naturally in the brain, there are methods of promoting memory reconsolidation such that specific memories can be modified, suppressed, or enhanced. Three such instances of memory modification are false memories, molecular memory modifications, and direct stimulation of memory storing neurons. False memories are a psychological method of implanting false childhood memories in test subjects through suggestible discourse, while molecular memory modifications involve a similar process with the aid or manipulation of molecules known to have a role in the reconsolidation process. This paper reviews the current literature on memory modifications and memory neuroscience before a review of the current ethical debate on memory research and modification. It then puts forth an ethical framework for how to proceed with human memory research as neuroscientists and psychologists develop increasingly precise methods of influencing the natural functions of the human brain.