Forgetting your keys on the kitchen counter or leaving your work laptop at home can have a way of making you feel like a complete airhead, but a new study published in the journal Neuron will assuage any concerns. The researchers essentially found that forgetting things is not only a sign of a normal and healthy brain, but it also means that your brain is creating space for newer, more useful information.
“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,” said University of Toronto researcher Blake Richards of their findings. “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 and his colleague Paul Frankland initially sought out to explore the idea that the function of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time, but to “optimize intelligent decision-making by holding on to what’s important and letting go of what’s not,” summarizes CNN.
To reach this conclusion, they analyzed years of studies on memory, memory loss, and brain activity in humans and animals. One study even found that as new brain cells were formed in the hippocampus region of the brain, the new connections would overwrite old memories and make them more difficult to access. The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with learning new things.
From an evolutionary perspective, this “allows us to adapt to new situations by letting go of outdated and potentially misleading information,” they explain. And yes, this can even apply to daily offenses like forgetting peoples’ names or leaving your wallet on your dresser. “You don’t want to forget everything, and if you’re forgetting a lot more than normal, that might be cause for concern,” notes Richards. “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.”