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BBC 6 minute English-Deleting memories

BBC 6 minute English-Deleting memories

BBC 6 minute English-Deleting memories


Transcript of the podcast

NB: This is not a word for word transcript

Finn: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Finn

Rob: And I’m Rob

Finn: Rob, I’m going to ask a personal question – do you have any bad memories

Rob: Yes. When I was young I was bitten by a dog. And he bit my arm. Not nice

Finn: Really? Do you ever wish you could delete – or remove – that memory

Rob: Oh yes, absolutely. Yes. I don’t want to remember that

Finn: OK. Well, today we’ll be talking about new research that has successfully deleted memories. We’ll also explain some vocabulary related to the brain. But, as always, first let’s start with a question

Rob: A good idea Finn

Finn: We’re talking about the role of neurons in the brain – these are the cells that transmit information. So, roughly how many neurons do scientists think we have? Is it

a) 8-10 million

b) 8-10 billion

c) 80-100 billion

Rob: Wow. I know we have a lot of neurons; however, a 100 billion would be a lot to get into your brain, so I’m going for the small number, 8 to 10 million

Finn: OK, Rob. We’ll find out if you are right or wrong at the end of the programme. So, how have scientists managed to remove specific memories? Well, the research was carried out in the Netherlands at Radboud University, Nijmegen

Rob: Yes, they’ve been using something called ECT – electroconvulsive therapy – this treatment involves electric pulses through the brain

Finn: Yes – it’s quite a controversial treatment, partly thanks to films like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where a terrified patient is strapped to a table and forced to receive these shocks

Rob: But it’s used as a last resort – a last option – for people with severe depression. Now, in this study they’ve been looking at neurons – and memories are actually stored in the connections between these neurons, according to Dr Martin Kroes on the team

Finn: He says these connections take some time to become permanent, and if you disturb this process, you lose the connection between the brain cells altogether

Rob: So, if you lose the connection – you lose the memory. That was the idea. Could they make it work in an experiment? Listen to BBC reporter Anna Holligan talking about what happened to the patients

BBC reporter Anna Holligan

Participants were patients already being treated with ECT. They were shown two sets of picture cards each telling a story. Then just before an ECT session they were shown one of the stories again to reactivate that particular memory. The results were remarkable, after the ECT they forgot the story they just looked at, while the memory of the other story was unaffected

Finn: So – patients were shown two sets of cards. Then, just before ECT, they were shown one of the sets again to reactivate it – to make it active again

Rob: They then had ECT – and when they woke up, they forgot the memory of the card they had just looked at – the one that had just been reactivated

Finn: Yes. Now, we should mention that one of the side-effects of ECT is memory loss – so why is this surprising? It’s because they were able to target specific memories

Rob: OK. Well, it’s thought that this new technique could help people with PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a memory-related illness where people who experience something very stressful and upsetting, something traumatic, such as war, continue to be affected by it psychologically

Finn: Yes, the hope is that these traumatic memories could be deleted

Rob: Which would be an exciting development. Now, before we forget, let’s remind everyone of today’s question

Finn: Yes, very good. Well, it was about the number of neurons in the human brain. Now, are there

a) 8-10 million

b) 8-10 billion

c) 80-100 billion

Rob: And I thought it was just a mere 8 to 10 million

Finn: Well there are, supposedly, 80 to 100 billion of these things in our brains. Not all scientists agree on the exact number. But still it’s about as many as there are stars in the whole Universe

Rob: It would take forever to count those

Finn: I don’t know who’s counting – one by one! Now, Rob, can you remind everyone about today’s vocabulary

Rob: I think that memory has been removed

Finn: Oh, it’s been deleted? OK

Rob: Only joking

Finn: You have it

Rob: Yes, I have it now, it’s come back to me! We heard

delete neurons pulses controversial a last resort depression reactivate PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder traumatic

Finn: Thank you very much Rob. And that’s it for this week’s 6 Minute English. We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s programme. Please join us again soon

Rob: Bye

Finn: Bye

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