Have you ever had a negative thought that you can not get out of your head? You are not the only one. This happens to healthy people and also to those who suffer from more serious mental problems, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress and depression, among others. It is possible that scientists have discovered the key to stop them.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and the University of Utah have identified a chemical in the brain’s hippocampal region – which is associated with memory – that helps people block negative thoughts from their minds. The substance is actually the neurotransmitter GABA, which is the main inhibitor of the brain. When a nerve cell releases GABA, it suppresses the activities of the other cells with which it is connected.
In their research, which was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications this month, the scientists conducted an experiment with 25 men aged between 19 and 36 years. They proceeded to ask participants to study pairs of unrelated words and learn to associate them. For example, a pair could include the words “beach” and “Africa.”
Then, the researchers taught the participants a word of the pair and a red or green signal. When they saw the word along with the green sign, it meant that they had to remember the other word. On the other hand, if they saw the red signal, they had to avoid thinking about the other word.
During the experiment, the scientists analyzed the brains of the participants using the procedure of functional magnetic resonance imaging (which detects changes in blood flow) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (which measures chemical changes).
They found that people who had the highest concentration of GABA were more successful at blocking unwanted thoughts. According to the researchers, what makes the study stand out is how specific it is. Before they could only identify the part of the brain that affected memory, but now they can comment on the neurotransmitter involved in the process.
The researchers declare that the ability to control our thoughts is “fundamental to our well-being”. They think that their discovery could help the scientific community gain a deeper knowledge of diseases that cause people to lose control of their thoughts.
Professor Michael Anderson of the University of Cambridge, who was one of the researchers of the study, says that humans begin to have problems when this control is compromised.
“When this capacity is weakened, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric illness,” Anderson said. “This includes intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, lamentations and pathological and persistent concerns.”