Being forgetful is the worst. There's nothing more embarrassing than being told something and then immediately forgetting what was said. And being the one person who forgot to follow the instructions is something you can never live down. Like, what? It's not your fault that you forgot to wear green to work on Wednesday even though your boss told everyone eight times!
And to make things worse, there are some people who seem to be able to remember everything. They even can remember the eye color of the doctor who delivered them on the day they were born. Which honestly, we're not sure if they're using their memory or if they're using magic. Or, they could be lying.
But if you're constantly forgetting minor things like people's birthdays, what you ate for breakfast or to pick your kids up at school, it might not be such a bad thing. As it turns out, forgetting could be a sign that your brain is working properly. Science says so, so it has to be true!
Two researchers at the University of Toronto reviewed memory research information in order to figure out what is the purpose of forgetting information. Their conclusion? That memory plays an important role in intelligence in decision making. And yes, they remember the results of their study.
The scientists reviewed years of information on memory and memory loss in both humans and animals in order to come to this conclusion. They didn't study elephants, however. Elephants never forget, thus, experimenting on elephants would be pointless.
"We find plenty of evidence from recent research that there are mechanisms that promote memory loss, and that these are distinct from those involved in storing information," said Paul Frankland, one of the researchers involved in the study. Unfortunately, the study does not tell us how many gigs our brain is. Nor does the study discuss when it's time to upgrade to the new iBrain X.
The researchers believe that the purpose of memory is not to store accurate information. ‘"The real goal of memory is to optimize decision-making,” says Blake Richards. So does this mean that we're now off the hook for remembering our Great-Aunt's birthday?
The researchers believe that knowing what to forget is just as important as knowing what to remember. So if you're still trying to remember the pythagorean theorem that you learned in high school geometry, you can probably throw that away. Science says you're probably better off without it. Now, why you wasted so much time learning it in the first place is an entirely different story...
"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 Richards. So your girlfriend shouldn't get mad at you because you can't remember where you had your first date. You're just focusing on more important things, like how much you love her.
In other words, the scientists believe that the whole point of forgetting is so you can make better decisions. If their theory is correct, you make better decisions by holding onto only the important info and scrapping all the irrelevant details. If you forget where you put your car keys, that just means you can make a better decision on where to put them next time... so you can forget where you put them again.
If you remember an event, but none of the little details of the event, you're not SOL. The scientists believe that remembering an event in this way provides people with a better way of generalizing experiences. You're focusing on the bigger picture in more ways than one.
New situations can lead to learning new information. And in those situations, you'll have to let the old and outdated information go, because it's no longer applicable. It's kind of like realizing that nobody wears acid-washed jeans anymore and throwing all of your pairs away, but with memories instead of '90s trends.
So don't sweat the small stuff! Science says you don't need to. Your date might care that you're spelling his name Geoffrey instead of Jeffrey, but according to science, that just means your brain is functioning properly. What's-his-name is going to have to accept that.