Posted on Jun 27, 2017, 10 a.m.
According to new research, the role of forgetting certain information may be just as important as remembering.
Research conducted at the University of Toronto with the help of those at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), shows that forgetting certain information is actually quite important for memory. This finding conflicts with the common line of thought amongst neurobiologists that remembering information is vital to maintaining accurate memories and sustaining neurobiological health. When it comes to memory, what's important is forgetting the irrelevant details and retaining the valuable information. The findings were recently published in the journal Neuron.
About the Research
The study was spearheaded by Blake Richards, a University of Toronto Scarborough Assistant Professor. Richards is adamant that the primary aim of memory is to facilitate prudent decision-making. The brain must forget meaningless details in order to focus on what matters the most for decision-making in the real world. Prior research pertaining to memory has focused on cellular mechanisms that play a part in storing information. This is referred to as persistence. The new study sheds light on the importance of forgetting, commonly referred to as transience. It is widely believed that the failure to remember boils down to the failure of mechanisms that recall or store information.
The study's co-author, Paul Frankland, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, states his group found ample evidence from recent research that mechanisms exist to promote memory loss. These mechanisms are separate from those that play a part in the storage of information. Frankland's research has shown the growth of additional neurons within the hippocampus stimulates forgetting. This is an intriguing finding as this portion of the brain creates more cells in those who are young. The research also delved into how forgetting in childhood years might play a part in why adults usually lack memories for events that took place before age four.
The Why of the Matter
The question begs: Why do brains expend energy to forget information? Part of the answer is that old information eventually becomes outdated and is no longer important to remember. If the brain continues to bring up conflicting memories as one tries to navigate life, it makes it difficult to make well-reasoned and fully informed decisions. The brain also expends energy to forget in order to make generalizations based upon massive amounts of information. This can only be performed if a considerable chunk of details within the data in question is forgotten. Such forgetting is necessary to prioritize key information required to make decisions.
The Fundamental Purpose of Memory
The primary takeaway from this research is that it is unnecessary to memorize as many details and subtleties as possible. If one attempts to make a decision and the brain is constantly cycling through details, many of which are actually useless data, it will prove quite difficult to make a timely and informed decision. The bottom line is that forgetting is healthy and necessary to allow for the storage of important memories.
The bottom line is that the point of memory is to remember important information rather than trivial details like who won the Major League Baseball batting title in 2005. Everyone should strive to key in on remembering the most important information to become more intelligent and make well-informed decisions in diverse circumstances. Forgetting meaningless details really does ameliorate the quest to remember what is truly important.
Blake A. Richards , Paul W. Frankland. The Persistence and Transience of Memory. Neuron, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.037