There are children who could memorize everything and most of the others envy those children. But science has proven that these children are not smarter than you.

The first thing to know is a good memory doesn’t equate to high intelligence.

The second thing is our brains are set up to forget some things and remember only some.

In the end, forgetting is a core part of intelligence.

Forgetting is Just as Important as Remembering

“Our brains are actively working to forget”, reports U of T news – a new review paper from Paul Frankland, a senior fellow in CIFAR’s Child & Brain Development program, and Blake Richards, an associate fellow in the Learning in Machines & Brains program.

The literature on remembering is known as persistence and on the other side, the newer body of research on forgetting is known as transience according to the two University of Toronto researchers. It was published in the journal Neuron and they conclude that forgetting is also an important component in our memory system such as remembering.

According to the researchers, the goal of memory is not to retain the most accurate information over time, but to guide and optimize intelligent decision making by only holding on to pertinent information.

According to U of T Scarborough Assistant Professor Blake Richards, author of a new review study focusing on the role forgetting information plays in memory, “The real goal of memory is to optimize decision-making,”.

“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.”

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If you only remember the abstract of a conversation or a social encounter rather than any other detail, it shows that your brain forgets details. But it creates stripped-down memories which can help you to make decisions and predict the future.

Giving More Attention to the Process of Forgetting

The neurobiological research on memory done in the past focused on the cellular mechanisms involved in storing information which is known as persistence, but they gave less attention to those involved in forgetting was known as transience.

The inability to remember comes down to a failure of the mechanisms involved in storing or recalling information.

This is the breakthrough:

According to the co-author Paul Frankland, “We find plenty of evidence from recent research that there are mechanisms that promote memory loss, and that these are distinct from those involved in storing information,”

And also our brains are actively working at forgetting all the good and important things.

The underlying mechanisms

  • Weakening or eliminating of synaptic connections between neurons in which memories are encoded.
  • Generation of new neurons in the hippocampus.- supported by evidence from Frankland’s own lab.

The new connections change existing circuits and overwrite memories stored in those circuits, making them harder to access as new neurons integrate into the hippocampus. Science Daily explains why children, whose hippocampi are producing more new neurons and forget everything.

Why Do We Forget?

Is there any reason why our brains spend so much energy to keep up memories, and also spend so much energy trying to forget information?

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According to Richards, there are two main reasons why you try to forget some information.

  1. Old information becomes outdated and not as important to remember

“If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up multiple conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision.”

  1. Forgetting helps us to make better decisions by allowing to generalize past events to new ones

This principle is called as regularization in artificial intelligence.

“We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972.

“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.”-Said Richards.