Growing up, I have always been envious of my classmates who easily ace up exams that requires the memory of an elephant (the old saying: “Elephants never forget”). I never had the sharpest memory, and I am a forgetful person. More often than not, I find myself going to the grocery with a to-buy-list on my mind, only to return home forgetting about half of the things I have listed down.
But apparently, I have nothing to envy my former classmates for. A recent study conducted by Paul Frankland and Blake Richards from the University of Toronto shows that being forgetful is actually a sign of intelligence!
In the study, the two researchers have discovered that our brain does not exist to remember the complete details of all things happening in our life. In fact, to optimize our neuron functions, our memory works well by remembering only the significant things and ‘deleting’ everything that does not fall under the ‘important’ category.
“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world,” Blake Richards, one of the lead researchers, explained in an interview.
Before arriving at such conclusion, the two hardworking researchers looked and studied years worth of data about memory, memory loss, and brain activities of humans and animals. In one of Frankland’s experimental study, the researcher discovered that while new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for acquiring new information) of mice, the newly acquired learning overwrites old memories which makes it hard for our brain to recall it.
According to Richards, this newly discovered process allows us to adapt to new situation that is beneficial in our evolution. “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision,” Richards explained, further emphasizing the importance of this process.
At the end of the day, what is more important is the bigger picture that the little things, we tend to forget, create. This process gives us the ability to evaluate our previous experiences and assess how we will be able to apply them to the situations we are facing.
“We all admire the person who can smash Trivial Pursuit or win at Jeopardy, but the fact is that evolution shaped our memory not to win a trivia game, but to make intelligent decisions,” Richards added, reminding us the intended purpose of our memory. “And when you look at what’s needed to make intelligent decisions, we would argue that it’s healthy to forget some things.”
For forgetful people like myself, this new discovery sounds re-assuring. However, the two researchers that there is an extent to which forgetfulness is tolerable. If it is merely the names of the people you have just met, or the food you have eaten for breakfast then there really is nothing to worry about.
“You don’t want to forget everything, and if you’re forgetting a lot more than normal that might be cause for concern,“ one of the researchers clarified. “But if you’re someone who forgets the occasional detail, that’s probably a sign that your memory system is perfectly healthy and doing exactly what it should be doing.”
In addition, study shows that Millennials are becoming more forgetful than their predecessors. Well, Richards said that Millenials can blame it to the advancement of technology. Since we have a lot of available applications and software in which we can easily look up for information, there really is no need to memorize as much information as the generations did before.
“Instead of storing this irrelevant information that our phones can store for us, our brains are freed up to store the memories that actually do matter for us,” Richard reiterated.
If you want to enhance the functionality of your memory, the two researchers advise exercising daily. According to their research, sweating it out increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus region of our brain. And though the production of these neurons overwrite our existing memories, we have nothing to worry about for this process encourages our brain to make sound decisions.
So the next time you find yourself going to the kitchen, only to forget what you went there for, don’t think you’re stupid. It simply is your brain cells acquiring new information, making you wiser than you were a minute ago!
Do you agree with the findings of the recent research conducted in the University of Toronto? SHARE your thoughts below the comment section!