Forgetting is a fact of life—one that many people find frustrating. But mounting evidence pushes back at the notion that a slip or lapse in our recollection is inherently bad. Indeed, forgetting can sometimes help people cope psychologically or let go of useless knowledge. In a new study, neuroscientist Tomás Ryan of Trinity College Dublin and his colleagues have examined the fundamental biology underlying a form of forgetting we experience every day. Their work suggests that when we can’t recall an old phone number or a high school teacher’s name, those details are not necessarily lost. As Ryan explained to Mind Matters editor Daisy Yuhas, forgetting may be an active process that the brain uses to support learning. He also discussed how dementia may ultimately reflect disordered forgetting more than lost memories.
We often think of forgetting as a deficit of the brain or a limitation. Memory loss from dementia or brain trauma, for example, can be devastating.