DID YOU KNOW THAT …

… Forgetting Helps You Remember The Important Stuff, Researchers Say

Left, Anthony Wagner, associate professor of psychology, and doctoral student Brice Kuhl have discovered that the brain’s ability to suppress irrelevant memories makes it easier to remember what’s really important. (Credit: L.A. Cicero)

Science Daily For the first time, Stanford researchers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have discovered that the brain’s ability to suppress irrelevant memories makes it easier for humans to remember what’s really important.

“It’s somewhat of a counter-intuitive idea,” said Brice Kuhl, a doctoral student working in the lab of Associate Professor Anthony Wagner of the Psychology Department. “Remembering something actually has a cost for memories that are related but irrelevant.” But this cost is beneficial: The brain’s ability to weaken unimportant memories and experiences enables it to function more efficiently in the future, Kuhl said.

Kuhl and Wagner’s findings were published online June 3 in Nature Neuroscience in an article titled “Decreased Demands on Cognitive Control Reveal the Neural Processing Benefits of Forgetting.”

According to Wagner, the findings demonstrate the brain’s ability to discard irrelevant memories. “Any act of remembering re-weights memories, tweaking them to try to be more adaptive for the next time you try to remember something,” he said. “The brain is plastic—adaptive—and one feature of that is not just strengthening some memories but also suppressing or weakening others.”

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