Conclusions without evidence regarding emotional memories

The last sentence in the Significance section of this 2015 Emory/Harvard rodent study was:

“These data highlight the potential to exploit sensory system plasticity as a means of ameliorating negative emotional memories that may be tied to peripheral sensory systems.”

The “ameliorating negative emotional memories” part of this statement was incongruent with what the study actually found, as summarized by the Abstract’s last sentence:

“These data suggest that learning-induced freezing behavior, structural alterations, and enhanced neural sensory representation can be reversed in adult mice following extinction training.”

The study performed fear extinction experiments. The researchers and reviewer knew or should have known that studies such as Fear extinction is the learned inhibition of retrieval of previously acquired responses demonstrated that fear extinction doesn’t depend on memory retrieval.

Based on those studies’ findings, the subjects’ “negative emotional memories” possibly weren’t affected by the extinction experiments. The researchers neither provided direct evidence for “ameliorating negative emotional memories” nor studied areas of the subjects’ brains that contained or processed emotional memories, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. But, after all, Harvard.

What purposes did it serve for the researchers to make a Significance statement about “ameliorating negative emotional memories” when this wasn’t supported by the study’s findings? What part did the reviewer play with this statement?


Where was the study’s evidence to support the headline and statements in the news release such as:

“New Study Indicates That Sense of Smell Could Play Major Role in New Approaches to Treating PTSD

It’s possible for fear behaviors associated with emotional learning to be reversed through exposure-based talk therapy.”

Could this rodent study’s olfactory system findings be properly extrapolated to human talk therapy? No. But again, Harvard.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/41/12846.full “Extinction reverses olfactory fear-conditioned increases in neuron number and glomerular size”

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