We’ve all been forgetful from time to time, but for some of us, forgetfulness evokes fear that there’s an underlying medical condition affecting our ability to recall information.
But, according to research out of the University of Toronto in Canada, being forgetful may be a sign of your brain working properly. Researchers found that the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of our brain associated with memory, seemed to promote forgetting. The purpose was to make room for more important information and do away with more useless things.
According to the study’s lead author, Professor Blake Richards from the University of Toronto, “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 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.”
This isn’t the first time similar research has surfaced to support this finding.
Back in 2007, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor the brains of 20 healthy adults while they performed a simple memory test. It suggested people were better at remembering conflicting information, rather than repeat or easy information.
“The process of forgetting serves a good functional purpose,” Michael Anderson of the University of Oregon told New Scientist at the time. “What these guys have done is clearly establish the neurobiological basis for this process.”
For Richards most recent study, he along with his colleague, Paul Frankland, relied on previously published papers to reach their conclusion rather than conducting their own experimental research. According to their results, there was ample evidence to support the idea of forgetfulness being rather useful.
Among the numerous benefits of forgetfulness, perhaps the most prominent is the brain’s desire to discard old useless information. If it’s constantly recalling memories or useless data you don’t need anymore, it’s harder to make concrete decisions.
Forgetfulness also makes it easier for us to generalize previous events, like multiple visits to a shop, rather than remembering every specific detail from each visit.
Richards and Frankland proved this theory in an experiment with lab mice where they looked for the exit to a maze. It was found that if they moved the exit, the mice found it more quickly if they were drugged to forget the location of the old exit.
So, if you’re experiencing bouts of forgetfulness (within reason), don’t fear. It is possible that your brain is just creating space for the more valuable information it needs to retain.
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