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Forgetfulness Is a Sign of Brain Efficiency

by Madonna Watts D'Souza
Forgetfulness Is a Sign of Brain Efficiency

April 3, 2020

While most of us are annoyed by forgetting tiny details or people or objects in our lives, forgetting memories is a sign of brain efficiency according to a latest study.

Have you ever come across a person, a subject or an item and you completely forgot about them, only to be reminded about it and realised how easily you forgot about it? Have you ever thought about why your brain does that?

Is forgetfulness a sign of a weaker brain? Well, It’s not, as researchers study and break down why our brain forgets some memories as a sign of high efficiency? Seems Oxymoronic? It is at first, but for your brain, it’s a reason for speeding up efficiency.

The recent study headed over by Dr Oliver Baumann, the Assistant Professor at Bond University explains how the brain, which is the body’s if not the world’s most complex organ processes, filters and picks up memories.

Scientists especially focused on the reactions of the brain when participants met or encountered people or items from out of the blue for the first time. According to Baumann: “as we have only ever seen the co-worker at the office, the memory system appears to generate a snapshot that fuses the person and the office together.” Baumann additionally said: “Our brain thinks that person belongs in that room.”

He further continued: “If you encounter them somewhere else, that creates a problem in that you might not recognize them.
“That doesn’t happen once our brain learns the person exists independently of the room. The second time, third time around, our brain would not make that mistake again but encode the person and the room separately.”
Baumann expresses that this phenomenon reveals that our brains are “intrinsically efficient or almost lazy.”

To put this in perspective, It is more efficient for the brain to remember a flower which is linked to a garden, so that it can consider the flowers which we may see on the pavement as a complete entity and not separate entities.

Baumann says: “This ensures we are not overloading our brain and wasting space and energy.
“It is only when it seems beneficial to assume that an object or person could exist apart from the background that our brain takes the effort to encode that as an independent unit.”

This study was a collaboration between the School of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Artificial Mind at Bond University, the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland, and the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research.

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This is how our brain registers and organises memories

When the study was conducted, Participants were asked to lie down into an MRI brain scanner and were asked to memories multiple images of items against several different backgrounds, for example, a desk at a classroom.

50 per cent of the images were shown to the participants a day in advance. This ensured the possibility to spot the difference between the responses of the brain when the items were quite familiar vs. when they were only seen observed once.

The following levels of the study, scientists changed the backgrounds of some images with the objects. This led to difficulties for the participants in recalling the unfamiliar items.
What researchers observed in the brain was amazing. Along with the forgetting about the objects, there were changes observed in the hippocampus region. The hippocampus region is one of the most important regions for human memories.

According to Baumann: “the findings provide insight into how our memory system strives for efficiency and only encodes what it absolutely needs.”

“Forgetting can be seen as a feature because we shouldn’t encode more than we need and more is not always better. People with Hyperthymesia remember almost everything in their life and while that seems like a neat feat, it comes with a downside because they have this huge mass of information present and it becomes very difficult to focus on a task.”

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Further possibilities of artificially organising memories have a new hope

He further continued: “We have retinal and cochlear implants now and maybe in 100, 200 years we could have memory implants and be able to artificially interface our memory system. This is one little building block in the endeavour to fully understand how our memory system works.”

The research paper was published in the Journal Proceeding of Frontiers (Psychology) 

So the next time you may forget something, maybe talk to your inner voice or maybe thank your brain because it thought wasn’t important enough and was taking up unnecessary space. If research further develops, then maybe in the near future we have some devices which will act as a ‘CleanMaster’ or ‘Google files’ for our brains, where we can organise and delete memories which serve us no purpose.

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