Being forgetful could simply be a result of the brain making room for more relevant information.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Toronto, forgetting things can actually be a mechanism to help us function in a constantly changing world. “The real goal of memory is to optimize decision making”, says the research study author Blake Richards.
The study, published June 21st in the journal Neuron, found that the growth of neurons in the hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with memory — seems to promote forgetfulness. The research explains that the brain forgets irrelevant things, in order to make room for other more important details. “We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972”, said Prof. Richards.
This concept has been celebrated prior. In 2007, Stanford researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate the human´s brain ability to discard meaningless information and replace it with new and more relevant information. In this study, researchers Dr. Anthony Wagner and Dr. Brice Kuhl performed a memory test on 20 Stanford students age 18 to 32 years old. Wagner concluded, “as irrelevant memories are forgotten, the neural systems that help us remember do not need to work as hard”.
Forgetfulness can also be beneficial. By getting rid of unimportant information — like a password no longer used –, the brain makes room for other information. This way our brain can make more concrete decisions. Additionally, it makes it easier to remember past events, by generalizing them.
“The point of memory is to make you an intelligent person who can make decisions given the circumstances, and an important aspect in helping you do that is being able to forget some information” , explained Prof. Richards.
Prof. Richards and his collaborator Prof. Paul Frankland based their research on different studies. Although they didn’t produce any experimental evidence, their extensive review on previously published studies helped them come with the conclusions that are now changing our way of understanding the human brain.
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