Compliments of the BBC
Scientists could have the secret. They have identified a chemical in the brain’s “memory” region that allows us to suppress unwanted thoughts.
The discovery may help explain why some people can’t shift persistent intrusive thoughts – a common symptom of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and schizophrenia.
Researchers say controlling our thoughts is “fundamental to wellbeing”.
Prof Michael Anderson, from the University of Cambridge, who conducted the study, said: “When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases – intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and persistent worries.”
Researchers found a particular chemical, or neurotransmitter, known as Gaba, held the key.
Gaba is the brain’s main “inhibitory” neurotransmitter. That means, when it’s released by one nerve cell it suppresses the activities of other cells to which it is connected.
They found people who had the highest concentrations of Gaba in their brain’s hippocampus (or memory hub) were best at blocking unwanted thoughts or memories.
“What’s exciting about this is that now we’re getting very specific,” said Prof Anderson.
“Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part’, but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely to be important.”
New approaches to treatment
The discovery might shed light on a number of conditions, from schizophrenia to PTSD, in which sufferers have a pathological inability to control thoughts – such as excessive worrying or rumination.