Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Remembering Makes Us Forget

According to an article in the Telegraph, if you remember this post, the memory of another one will die off. 

Not just this post, of course, but all memories.

A study by researchers at University of Birmingham  and  the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge have shown that remembering  makes us forget as the process of recall actually causes us to lose other memories.

Doesn't seem a bad thing, does it, if we could actually choose which memory we wanted to ditch when the new one was formed, but I don't think it works quite like that. 
It's the 'intentional recall' apparently that leads us to forget other experiences which interfere with retrieval.  The research is published in the Nature Neuroscience. and is the first to isolate this 'adaptive forgetting mechanism' in the human brain. 

We often say "the more I try to remember, the more I forget" and this research more or less sums this up.
Brain imaging in the study shows that the forgetting mechanism itself is implemented by the "suppression of the unique cortical patterns that underlie competing memories."
(I've italicised that explanation in case anyone thought I was pretentious enough to use those words from my own mind)

Patterns of brain activity were monitored by MRI scans while participants were asked to recall individual memories based on those they had been shown earlier. Competing memories were less well reactivated as the trials went on.
The article goes on to suggest that most people are surprised to learn that the recalling of memories makes us suppress others and so forget them. 

A Nerve Cell

I'm not a scientist, but I find this perfectly logical and in my own case 
                               more like the only possibility of remembering anything at all.

Most days I find I have a job on to remember what I've walked into another room for, and I know that applies to many people. I couldn't possibly expect my poor memory to recall things without getting rid of some others. It's a bit like buying new clothes -  you have to have a clear out of the old stuff before adding the new otherwise your wardrobe becomes totally unmanageable and you can't distinguish between what's worth keeping and what's not.

Seems to me that this is exactly what our minds are doing and I'm glad that my mind does this automatically without me having to worry over which memory to discard. 
I shall have to have faith that the discarded memories weren't particularly important or rather that the new ones are. 

It shines a whole new light on who has a good or bad memory and makes me feel less concerned about what I thought was my bad one. It's not bad at all, it's just being efficient.