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According To Scientists, Being Forgetful Actually Means You Are Smart

By Psquared - May 24, 2019
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The human brain is a mystery. We’ve got a pretty good grasp on how the heart, lungs and even the pancreas works, but when it comes to the brain, we know that it works, but we’re not entirely sure how. New papers are written every day and research is done constantly to try and further our understanding of our most important organ. While we’re getting closer, we’re not quite there yet. But exciting new findings are always coming to light.

Memory is an especially valuable thing to understand when it pertains to our brains. After all, our memories are what make us who we are. So it’s scary when our memory starts to go. Every time you forget something, it’s easy to freak out and wonder if this is the beginning of the end. And being forgetful can also make those around you quite angry. But it turns out that being forgetful might not be as big a problem as you (and others) might think…

Forgetful?

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How good is your memory? Is you’re a brain a steel trap for information and you retain everything?

Or is your brain more like a colander? Details go in, but get strained out almost immediately.

How exactly do memories work? It can be scary when you forget a lot of things. You can’t help but wonder if you’re in the early stages of a brain disorder that will rob you of all your thoughts and previous experiences.

Why Do We Forget?

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What exactly causes us to forget in the first place? We don’t know about you, but we’re not convinced that the Men In Black aren’t the cause.

They zapped away our thoughts, and that’s why we forgot to get you a Mother’s Day card, Mom. We swear!

Well, it turns out that’s not how or why we forget things. It also turns out that forgetting things might not be something to worry about, but even something to celebrate.

Sweet Relief

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According to a study, it turns out that being forgetful might actually be a sign of intelligence.

This might come as a shock to many of you, as remembering information is often seen as the main factor in whether or not someone is smart.

But according to this research, forgetting information isn’t necessarily a flaw, but a vital component in memory, specifically retaining only the information that matters most. So breathe easy if you remember the big details but not the little stuff.

Blake Richland

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Professor Blake Richland, one of the publishers of the study, pointed out that it’s actually important for our brains to forget some information.

“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.

We know that exercise increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus, but they’re exactly those details from your life that don’t actually matter, and that may be keeping you from making good decisions.”

The Bigger Picture

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A simpler way of phrasing this is that it’s okay if your brain loses irrelevant details as long as it retains the bigger picture.

If you remember every minute detail of past events, then sure, that’s great.

But if your brain is full of all these tiny details and it prevents you from being able to generalize the experience of past events and use that info to make future decisions, then it’s more harmful than helpful.

What Matters Most

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Think of it like this: Let’s say three years ago you went to a party.

You remember the flavor of soda and potato chips, the color of the towels in the bathroom and even the host’s grandparents’ middle names.

But during the party, a bear entered the home and you were attacked because you tried petting it. Yet, that’s the detail you can’t recall, so you’re likely to try and pet bears again in the future. What’s the most important info to retain?

Word Of Warning

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All of that said, it’s the irrelevant info that’s okay for us to forget from time to time.

That’s actually a sign of a healthy memory. But if you’re losing info that’s truly important at an alarming frequency, then you actually should be concerned and talk to a medical professional.

So don’t worry if you need to set phone reminders to return that email, but it’s an issue if you need to relearn how to walk.

Decision Making

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If your brain is constantly bombarded with and absorbing useless info, it would never be able to make decisions.

So what type of info is okay to forget and what stuff needs to be remembered? Richland says it depends on the environment.

“One of the things that distinguishes an environment where you’re going to want to remember stuff versus an environment where you want to forget stuff is this question of how consistent the environment is and how likely things are to come back into your life.”

Useless Trivia

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So while watching people absolutely dominate week after week in Jeopardy is impressive, it isn’t a true marker of how smart they are.

So we can feel better about ourselves when we are terrible at following along, since an honest to goodness professor says it isn’t that important!

“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.”

[FYI, it was the Boston Bruins, but we had to look that up.]

Paul Frankland

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Blake Richards wasn’t the only author of this study. Professor Paul Franklin co-authored it and brought his own unique insights.

Frankland is a University of Toronto associate professor and senior scientist of neurosciences and mental health at SickKids.

Apparently elements of the brain are there specifically to make us forget, as he said, “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.”

Neurons

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One recent study in particular done by Frankland’s lab showed that the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus seems to promote forgetting.

Yup… our brain forgets things on purpose! It’s not our fault at all! The area of the brain that does this actually generates more cells in young people.

The research explored how forgetting in childhood may play a role in why adults typically do not have memories for events that occurred before the age of four years old.

Making Room

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Another reason that we forget is because as we grow, some of the information we learn becomes outdated.

Think about it. When you’re young, you make sense of things by rationalizing using a child’s mind.

If you never forgot any of this, it’d be chaos. Frankland said, “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up multiple conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision.”

Other Traits Of Intelligent People

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So if someone is forgetful when it comes to useless info, it proves they might actually be smart.

There are other interesting traits that show off someone’s intelligence. Apparently, having a messy desk is one of them.

In an experiment from the University of Minnesota, people in a messy setting came up with more creative ideas than those in a neat space. “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” says study author Kathleen Vohs, PhD.

Staying Up Late

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They say that wise people are the ones who are early to bed and early to rise.

Turns out, that isn’t true. Staying up later is more common among intelligent people. Why exactly is that?

study from the London School of Economics and Political Science found that people who tend to go to bed later have higher IQs. The reason lies in our evolution. Nighttime was a more dangerous place, so our ancestors who ventured into it instead of going to sleep needed to be more intelligent.

Cursing

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You’d think that swearing would be a sign of someone having a poor vocabulary and a less than optimal brain.

Nope! A study by expert in cursing Timothy Jay, PhD and colleagues found that people who could come up with more curse words had a larger vocabulary in general.

“Taboo or ‘swear word’ fluency is positively correlated with overall verbal fluency,” Dr. Jay told Medical Daily. “The more words you generated in one category meant the more words you generated in another category, orally and verbally.”

Cold Showers

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They say that cold showers are good for stopping you from thinking about very specific types of thoughts.

However, it turns out that while cold showers are good at stopping stimulating thoughts of one type, they can stimulate all other types of thought.

study from Finland, where winter swimming is common, note, “adaptation to cold water was associated with a significant decrease in tension and fatigue, and an improvement in mood and memory.” These are all things that can boost brain function and productivity.

The Sound Of Chewing Annoys You

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Do you find your skin crawling and you’re barely able to contain your anger when you hear someone chewing?

Then you may be smarter than you realize! A study from Northwestern University found that people who tested high in creative cognition tended to have an inability to filter out irrelevant sensory information.

This means you’re taking it all in, sometimes to a fault. “Leaky sensory gating may help people integrate ideas that are outside of the focus of attention, leading to creativity in the real world,” the study authors wrote.

Doodling

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Do you have a habit of drawing on anything and everything constantly? You’re not a vandal, you’re a genius!

study from the United Kingdom found that people were able to recall 29 percent more information if they were doodling.

Dr. Wai has a theory as to why, saying “Perhaps it’s not the actual act of doodling, but the act of taking a break of any kind that matters. For example, the idea that your mind works unconsciously in the background even when you aren’t overtly focusing on a problem.”

You Criticize Yourself

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It’s been said that you are your own harshest critic. If this is true, it’s a sign of intelligence in you.

In a landmark 1999 study from Cornell University, scientists found that incompetent people couldn’t recognize their own incompetence.

This wound up leading to an inflated sense of self satisfaction and unrealistic views on their capabilities. This has become known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. “For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack.”

Remember...

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So there you have it. If you posess an forgetful, it might actually be a sign of intelligence. Yay!

But don’t go getting cocky now. And don’t use this as a be-all-and-endall excuse for whenever you don’t remember something.

If you forget your significant other’s birthday or your anniversary, you shouldn’t tell them to calm down and consider themselves lucky for being with someone so smart. A “sorry” or even a “my bad” is the correct response, because there are some things you really shouldn’t forget.