I am forgetful. It’s gotten much worse as I age (and since my pregnancies and having kids – sleep deprivation is no joke!), so I’m quite happy to hear that maybe I haven’t become addled by middle age after all.
Now, let’s just say this: the science says that forgetting small details might mean your brain is functioning well, separating important things from the noise, but forgetting large things should still be considered a major problem.
Recent research from the University of Toronto, published in Neuron, finds that the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus (where we think memories are stored) is formatted to make room for new and important information. In the process, that growth allows you to jettison useless knowledge.
Professor Blake Richards, lead author on the study, explains further.
“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.”
The point of memory, of course, is to increase your intelligence and your ability to assess your circumstances and make educated decisions – and in order to do that, some things need to be forgotten.
The study is supported by 2007 research that used MRI scans to monitor the brains of 20 healthy adults taking a memory test. The results claimed people were better at remembering conflicting information, as opposed to easy or repetitive knowledge.
“The process of forgetting serves a functional purpose,” verified Michael Anderson, one of the researchers on the 2007 study. “What these guys have done is clearly establish the neurobiological basis for this process.”
Researchers agree that there are several benefits to being able to forget some things. First, certain information, like old phone numbers and passwords, is worthless. Second, we can generalize or combine certain memories to no detriment.
In one super interesting experiment with mice, scientists had the rodents find the exit to a maze, then on a future try, changed its location.
The mice who were drugged to forget the former location of the exit found the new one much faster.
I’m not sure if this is why I can never remember the names of people I’ve just met (or met long ago), but hey. I’m going to go ahead and blame it on my brain trying to be smarter and stronger, and not on my general lack of interest.
Don’t try to stop me.