Our Brain Actively Works To Forget Some Things, According To Researchers

Wait… I swear I had something witty planned for the intro of this article. I should’ve written it down somewhere. Curse this forgetfulness!

Anyway! Researchers from the University of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children say that being forgetful might be a sign of being highly intelligent.

PHOTO: Pixabay/Tumisu

Fans of Sherlock Holmes, like me, some of you may already be familiar with this idea that storing information that isn’t relevant to oneself is a waste of space in our brain-attic. It fascinated me the moment I read that, and I still maintain that kind of thinking as much as I can.

For researchers, they believe that forgetting certain things is equally as important as being able to remember information.

“The real goal of memory is to optimize decision-making,” says Blake Richards, author of the study. “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.”

Now it may be difficult to judge what is important and what is not, and that’s okay. Some say that “it’s the small things that matter” and that is valid too. All the study is saying is that forgetting things every once in a while is healthy.

Another study showed that a growth of new neurons in a part of our brains that tend to generate more cells in young people promotes forgetting. Ever wondered why we don’t have many memories from childhood except for that general feeling of nostalgia? Maybe that’s our brain-attic trying to organize itself and store just the bigger picture instead of all the little details.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Japheth Mast

So forgetting is something that our brains do on purpose, but why does it do that? The author offers two reasons: One is that old information becomes quickly outdated in a constantly changing world. Two is a similar concept to an AI’s learning technique called regularization.

“This principle aims to get computer models to learn how to make generalizations based on large amounts of data. In order to do this, there must be some forgetting of details in the data involved in order to prioritize the core information that is necessary for decisions,” U of T News wrote.

As Richard summarizes his study, “If you’re trying to make a decision it will be impossible to do so if your brain is constantly being bombarded with useless information… 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.”

PHOTO: Unsplash/AbsolutVision

So don’t sweat the small things! Well, except maybe the small things in a relationship, if you are in one. I’ve seen enough fictional couples fight over forgetting something about their first date or whatever.

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