Eye movements take edge off traumatic memories


Credit: de Voogd et al., JNeurosci (2018)

Two human experiments published in JNeurosci demonstrate that a widely used yet controversial psychotherapy technique suppresses fear-related amygdala activity during recall of a traumatic memory.

Despite being a common and evidence-based therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) — discovered serendipitously in 1987 by a psychologist while walking in the woods — it is unclear whether the eye movements in this treatment provide any additional benefits to patients struggling with fear-related disorders that are not readily achieved through traditional exposure therapy. The promise of EMDR is its potential to recode the emotional content of the traumatic memory itself.

Investigating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying EMDR in healthy men and women, Lycia de Voogd and colleagues found that both side-to-side eye movement and a working memory task independently deactivated the amygdala — a brain region critical for fear learning. The researchers show in a second experiment that this deactivation enhanced extinction learning — a cognitive behavioral technique that reduces the association between a stimulus and a fear response. The reduced amygdala activity is thought to be a consequence of less available resources since they are dedicated to making eye movements.


Article: Eye-movement intervention enhances extinction via amygdala deactivation*
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0703-18.2018
Corresponding author: Lycia de Voogd (Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Nijmegen, The Netherlands), [email protected]

*A preprint of this manuscript has been posted on bioRxiv: https://doi.org/10.1101/282467

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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