New research out of the University of Birmingham suggests that memory recall is actually causing your brain to forget other memories.
The study was published in Nature Neuroscience and shows that whenever we rack our brain to remember a specific memory, another experience is pushed out of the way and becomes forgotten.
The Science of Forgetting
“Though there has been an emerging belief within the academic field that the brain has this inhibitory mechanism, I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that recalling memories has this darker side of making us forget others by actually suppressing them,” Dr. Maria Wimber, study co-leader, says.
Memory recall isn’t as simple as recovering an old experience. Remembering actually triggers the brain to forget competing experiences that interfere with the recall.
Researchers showed study participants an image and then used MRI scans to monitor brain patterns while asking participants to remember something based on those images. It became evident that while a specific memory would become more vivid with each trial the competing memories became harder to retrieve.
The Dark Side of the Brain
This inhibitor wasn’t found in only one memory type either. Findings show that semantic memory, episodic memory, and short-term memories were all affected equally.
And though each person greatly differs genetically, researchers believe all brains have the power to prompt this forgetting mechanism.
The bright side to these findings is that doctors can now use this information to help people overcome a negative aspect of their past by simply forgetting it; pushing it aside and bringing forward a more positive memory.
Additionally, there are always ways to help improve your memory. Even if your brain is trying to suppress memories, these tips will help you to keep the important moments at the forefront of your memory recall.
How to Improve Your Memory
- Stay Active
The brain is a muscle like any other, and keeping it active will help keep it healthy. Crossword puzzles, learning a new skill or memory games are all excellent workouts for the brain. Regular aerobics also helps increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that involves memory.
- Use Word Association
This is especially helpful with remembering names; repeat the name, or word, right after hearing it and use word association to trick your brain into memorizing it.
- Hit the Hay
Sleep is important for all aspects of the body, including the brain. While sleeping, your brain is actually forming memories, and little Zz-time can lead to learning disabilities and forgetfulness. Have a hard time sleeping at night? Try these tricks to help sleep and in turn improve your memory!
- Stay Organized
Keep all those important dates in a helpful agenda or phone calendar. You can also set reminders and alarms to help stay on top of dates and times of appointments.
- Drink Coffee!
Besides all the other health benefits coffee holds, it can significantly help improve your short and long-term memory.