If you have a memory like a sieve, then you need to read this. Scientists at the University of Toronto in Canada have released some research that claims that those with poor short-term memory might actually be smarter than those brains-in-jars that retain all information.
Your skills of recall might not make you the best team member at the pub quiz, but if you tend to eschew the finer details, it might be a sign that your brain is creating space for new information rather than retaining irrelevancies.
The Canadian team found that the growth of neurons in the hippocampus - the part of the brain that deals with memory - actually promoted forgetting, with the purpose of making room for more important details while discarding useless info.
Credit: Universal Pictures
"We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972," said Professor Blake Richards. "The point of memory is to make you an intelligent person who can make decisions given the circumstances, and an important aspect in helping you do that is being able to forget some information."
Richards, along with his colleague, Paul Frankland, reviewed existing papers and came to their conclusion without any new research, but found ample evidence that forgetting promotes brain activity and can be very useful.
They cited an experiment performed on mice that showed that the tested animals could find the exit from a maze quicker when they were drugged to forget where it had been previously and discovered it anew, rather than those who were not drugged and used previously known information to find their way out.
It does make some sense. When your brain is laden down with information that you don't use - old passwords, for example - it struggles to remember a new, useful one. We remember the general points rather than the specifics for exactly this reason: such as when we went to the shops, rather than the exact details of what we bought.
That's why you can remember a song and an artist rather than the whole lyrics. And also why you should avoid pub quizzes that want you to know the whole lyrics to 'Wonderwall'.
Actually, maybe or maybe not... I don't remember.
Words: Mike Meehall Wood
Featured Image Credit: Creative Commons