Why do we need forgetting?

Forgetting – a nightmare of all students. A difficult to understand process which results in the fact that the acquired knowledge stops to be available. Why couldn’t evolution endow us with a perfect memory?

How does it happen that we forget?

There exist many scientific theories which attempt to explain the phenomenon of disappearing of some of the acquired information by our brain. The four main ones are:

The Decline Theory – similarly to any other part of our body or biological process, memory gradually weakens with age. According to this theory, we forget a given information when it is not used and recalled often enough. Proof may be found in research on memorizing words. Statistically, it’s easier to forget rarely repeated proper, whereas it’s harder to forget exclamations and interjections used in everyday conversations.

Defective Recall Theory – contrary to the previous theory, according to this theory forgetting is not a defect on the level of storing information, but a defect connected with remembering it. The inability to remember memorized knowledge is caused by an error in the way the information was coded. Each of us has found himself in a situation when he or she suddenly forget a word or a well known fact. After some time - usually on the next day, we suddenly remembered that information without much effort. \

Motivated Forgetting Theory – this psychological approach assumes the existence of unknown mechanisms which deletes or blocks traumatic experiences in the. Sigmund Freud believed that repressed unpleasant memories still function in our subconscious and influence our behavior. 

Interference Theory – according to this theory there are two types of phenomena occurring in the brain which are responsible for forgetting. Retroactive interference causes new memories to delete or block the old ones. On the contrary, active interference causes old memories to block memorizing information about the world. Both active and retroactive interference help in updating our knowledge about the world and at the same time in keeping the most important information. 

Why do we forget?

We tend to forget information which doesn’t refer to knowledge acquired earlier, and what doesn’t end with any action. It’s a natural and even indispensible process responsible for organizing our knowledge. Why is it essential? The answer may be found in the case described by a famous neurologist Alexander Luria.
For 30 years a researcher observed a patient who had a perfect memory. By only looking at a page of text the patient was able to remember each word of it after 15 years. Although he didn’t suffer of autism nor any other mental illness, he didn’t forget anything. The price he had to pay for this ability were enormous difficulties in estimating the importance of particular information, and in understanding the sense of a read text.
Forgetting relieves our brain by depriving it of unneeded information. Too much acquired data blocks all other activities. For this reason we have built-in defense mechanisms which allow us to memorize only the most important and necessary information and forget what is unimportant.

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