Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Forgetting May Be Part of the Process of Remembering

From The New York Times:
Blocking out a distracting memory is something like ignoring an old (and perhaps distracting) acquaintance, experts say: it makes it that much harder to reconnect the next time around. But recent studies suggest that the brain plays favorites with memories in exactly this way, snubbing some to better capture others. A lightning memory, in short, is not so much a matter of capacity as it is of ruthless pruning — and the new study catches the trace of this process at it happens.

“We’ve argued for some time that forgetting is adaptive, that people actively inhibit some memories to facilitate mental focus,” as when they are trying to recall a friend’s new phone number or the location of a parking space, said Michael Anderson, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oregon. ...

In all, this research suggests that memories are more often crowded out than lost. An ideal memory improvement program, Dr. Anderson said, “would include a course on how to impair your memory. Your head is full of a surprising number of things that you don’t need to know.”

I thought that was what blogs are for.

Try all this out on your next exam (or the subsequent office hours visit to argue about your grade).

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