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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them. While there are no new episodes of Brain Food, we will continue to maintain the archive here.

Brain Food: Can Brain Activity Alleviate Painful Memories?

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Rapid Eye Movement – that thing we do in our deepest sleep – is not fully understood. Scientists think it happens when different parts of the brain are communicating and making sense out of the chaos of the day. 

Northern Arizona University psychologist Larry Stevens is furthering the understanding of brain activity through a technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. Stevens says eye movement, used therapeutically during waking hours, can help people process painful memories and may even minimize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It combines two well-established treatments for trauma. One is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, an efficacy-based treatment for a lot of emotional disorders and Exposure Therapy, which particularly is used in the treatment of trauma,” he says.

Using EEG electrodes placed on the scalp, Stevens can detect whether different parts of the brain are communicating with one another. He believes that’s the key to diminishing the lingering impacts of upsetting experiences.

“In the first study we did – we had them think of a positive event and we looked at the degree of coherence that occurred when they were thinking of the event and moving their eyes back and forth. We found that indeed, EEG Coherence increased which suggested that they were forming associations across different parts of their brain with the pleasant experience. Then we replicated the study with unpleasant events and we found that same thing, except even more, even higher coherence during the reprocessing of information that was unpleasant for someone,” he says.

EMDR therapy is already used to treat war veterans. Stevens is proposing the use of EEG electrodes on PTSD patients to chart the activity in different parts of the brain to determine whether severe emotional distress can be alleviated.

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