There are people who pride themselves on their excellent memories, which can certainly be useful in school or social situations.
However, it is nearly impossible to remember every tiny detail of every situation, and it’s nearly as impossible to remember every fact that you learn in school, especially over a long period of time.
When you forget something, it often makes you feel a bit…well…stupid. You don’t feel particularly intelligent standing in the middle of the grocery store trying to remember everything you need to get, nor do you feel exceptionally bright when you go from one room to another and forget why you made the trip.
Giving more attention to the process of forgetting
You might wonder why these minor brain lapses occur, but you don’t really need to worry. Researchers Paul Frankland and Blake Richards from the University of Toronto say that forgetting is as important as remembering.
The paper published in Neuron focused on several studies that analyzed the neurobiology behind remembering and forgetting. It turns out that these two processes interact with each other, allowing for “intelligent decision-making in dynamic, noisy environments.”
The author of the review study, Professor Blake Richards, explains that the real purpose of memory is the optimization of decision-making.
The brain achieves this by filtering out irrelevant details and holding on to things that will contribute to intelligent decisions in the real world.
‘Bad memory’ in this respect is actually a mechanism in the brain which serves to quickly make space for relevant information and not allow the brain to waste energy and space remembering the mundane and trivial information.
Why do we forget?
The brain has a small mechanism called the hippocampus, and this component of the mind stores memories. It works to get rid of unimportant details so you can focus more on what really matters. This allows you to make intelligent decisions in a much more efficient way.
While this process occurs, the brain is actually overwriting old memories with new, more important ones. A brain that is crowded with too many memories is more likely to have conflict in its ability to make decisions.
For instance, a brain with many memories might be indecisive because it accounts for too many variables.
“We know that sport increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus,” said Richards. “It’s these very details from your life that are not important, and maybe keep you from making good decisions.”
This makes sense from a biological standpoint since early humans would have had to remember vital details in order to survive, so the brain would grow to help that happen.
However, with the advancements in technology in the recent years, humans are negating the need for detailed memory.
For people in the modern world, it is much more useful to understand how Google works than it is to remember how to do unusual tasks.
This just means it is even more acceptable to occasionally forget small details since you can now easily look up just about any fact you need to know at any time.
If you find yourself forgetting major chunks of time or large segments of important information, there might be a serious issue, but otherwise it is perfectly normal to miss small details. You don’t have to feel stupid when you forget since it just means your mind is working as it should.