Being Forgetful Is a Sign of Intelligence, Say Scientists

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Being Forgetful Is a Sign of Intelligence, Say Scientists

Being forgetful happens when the individual's brain lets go of other information to make room for new ones. / Photo by: Getty Images


Those who are often forgetful usually worry that their poor memory may be due to a memory-related disease. However, being unable to retain some information is apparently a normal occurrence, since our minds are meant to undergo such a process.  Though remembering has always been perceived as the strongest of mental traits, scientists say that being forgetful is a direct sign of intelligence.

Why It’s Good to Be Forgetful

Researchers from the University of Toronto said that forgetting things allows us to become stronger. Contrary to popular belief, the ultimate goal of memory is to transmit the most accurate information over time.

According to the website Higher Perspective, based on research, the true function of memory is "to optimize intelligent decision-making by holding onto what's important and letting go of what's not." This was explained by the authors of the review study, Professor Blake Richards and Paul Frankland. This happens by way of holding onto valuable information and letting the rest of it go. It turns out that, by doing so, the brain makes more room for other things that matter.

Being Forgetful Is a Sign of Intelligence

A paper, published in Neuron, focused on studies that analyzed the neurobiology of remembering and forgetting. After the study, it turned out that the two processes interacted with each other, to allow intelligent decision-making in a dynamic and noisy environment.

Based on Curious Mind Magazine, bad memory, in this case, is a mechanism in the brain which serves to quickly make space for relevant information and prevent the brain from wasting energy by remembering trivial information. This process also makes more room for memory, which will help people make critical decisions for further chances of survival and success.

CNN reported that the researchers came to this conclusion after they looked at years of data about memory, memory loss, and brain activity in both humans and animals. During one of Frankland’s earlier studies in mice, he found that as new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning new things, new connections overwrite old memories, making the older memories harder to access.

To cite an example, the hit Pixar movie titled Inside Out is an epitome of the study. As stated in Elite Readers, one particular scene in the movie show's the main character Riley’s memory dump. The scene shows faded memories being cleared out due to the lack of use, and in order to make way for new ones.

The constant swapping of old memories can have revolutionary benefits. An added benefit of being able to forget easily is it helps humans adapt quickly to new situations and change our way of thinking to better fit our current circumstances. If the brain fails to do this, conflicting memories dictating how you should act can flood your head, making it harder for humans to choose what course of action they should take. "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,” an example stated by Richards.

The brain also helps us forget the details of past events, while we remember the general picture of what happened. This offers us the opportunity to generalize previous experiences and apply them to current situations, according to the researcher. "When you look at what's needed to make intelligent decisions, we would argue that it's healthy to forget some things,” said Richards. He also added that while we all admire people who can smash a Trivial Pursuit or win Jeopardy, evolution shaped our memory not to win a trivia game, but to make intelligent decisions.  

Information that is easily accessible, like facts you can find using Google in today’s computers-at-our-fingertips society, no longer needs to be stored in our brains. "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 says.

He suggests that we should do regular clean-ups of our memory. This can be done by going to a gym or doing other physical exercises regularly, since exercise reportedly increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus. This increase will erase some memories that are not needed by your brain. Moreover, aside from freeing up space, your brain will also reclassify the existing memories to serve a better purpose in your decision making. A few more peaceful walks around the block or through the woods can work wonders, too.

If you tend to forget an occasional detail, stop worrying because it is normal and probably a sign that your memory system is healthy and doing its job. However, if you're forgetting a lot more than normal, that might be cause for concern.


An individual should do regular clean-ups of memory by doing physical activities like exercising. / Photo by: Getty Images




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