Don’t be sad next time you forgot something – your brain is just getting optimized for more important tasks

It happens to virtually all of us – we think we will remember something and we don‘t need to write it down anywhere, but soon we find ourselves without that piece of information. And it literally happens all the time. Why we forget things? Scientists from the University of Toronto say that forgetting is actually quite important.

Spending a lot of time to learn something only to forget it before an important exam is really stressful. Image credit: Lourdes S. via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Scientists say that our memory is not meant to make us walking encyclopaedias. It is actually just a tool, we evolved to make our decisions better and stronger. In other words, it is how we learn to do stuff. If you remember that time oven burned your fingers, you know you should not touch it with your bare hands. And so memory has to be optimized and delete things that are not relevant anymore. Forgetting is important.

There were numerous studies focusing on our memory before. We always wanted to know how it works and how we can improve it. But all of them regarded forgetting as a mistake of some sorts. Why? Because we hate forgetting things. However, now scientists decided to figure out the mechanisms behind forgetting and they found that it is actually promoted in some cases.

A recent study done by the University of Toronto showed that the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus seems to promote forgetting. Interestingly, this part of the brain generates more cells in young people, which means that younger people forget more. Remember many events from when you were 4 or 5? Exactly.

World around us is constantly changing and a lot of information we store in our memory becomes out-dated really quickly. Conflicting memories would make navigating through life quite difficult, because our past experiences play a major role in today’s decisions. Forgetting some minor details allows us to focus on more general facts, which is much easier to process. That is why we evolved to have this mechanism built into our brain – it is easier to deal with ever changing world and make decisions quicker from the past lessons.

Blake Richards, author of the study, said: “the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972. 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”.

However, it is not that scientists are saying that memory loss is not a real problem. Understanding it better will potentially lead to solutions, which is why scientists have to continue researching memory and processes forming it. Meanwhile you should not stress forgetting an old fact your learned in school – it probably wasn’t all that important.


Source: University of Toronto

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