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Why We Forget Things

Cover page: Ishita Baghel

Perhaps you forgot where you kept your keys or what you wanted to eat for dinner. Or maybe that science test really just popped out of nowhere… No matter what slips out of mind, you forget. People often associate forgetting as something that is only bad. However, forgetting can sometimes be the best ally in a certain situation. For example, wouldn’t it be best for everyone (you included) to forget about your embarrassing moment at school? The real question we should be asking is how and why we forget things? If forgetting never works out in your favor, how do you gain a better memory? Read on to find out!

There are certain theories and conditions linked to forgetting. Elizabeth Loftus, a memory researcher, has found and came up with a couple of theories for why people forget. First comes the theory regarding interference. We learn and observe new things. These pieces of information learned become memories. The theory of interference states that these new memories we learn compete with old memories. Interference becomes more likely when two memories gained are similar to one another. For example, let's say that you learned about oak trees in 2nd grade. Now, you're in 4th grade and are learning about spruce trees. The idea of trees is similar, so the two memories compete, and in the end, only one is remembered. The basic types of interference are proactive and retroactive. Proactive interference is when an older memory (perhaps the oak tree) makes it harder to remember or learn a new memory (the spruce tree). Retroactive interference is when new information (the spruce tree) makes it harder to remember the old information (the oak tree). One way to prevent interference from happening is to keep rehearsing both pieces of information in your mind.

Failure to store is another theory for why people forget. Actually, in this theory, it's the details that matter! Literally! Images of pennies were played in front of a group of different people. However, only one image portrayed an actual penny. The people were asked to select the real image. Everyone struggled as they all looked practically the same. Basically, no one really takes the time to look into the small details of a penny. People just look at the color and size. Maybe you did look at the penny. But, the question is: Did you really commit to remembering the exact details? The details weren't tied into your long-term memory. This is called failure to store.

Studies have shown that mental illnesses and addictions can also contribute to forgetfulness. Depression impairs the creation of neurons that help send information to the brain. Depression also impacts a process defined as pattern separation. This process is in charge of storing memories. Your brain best forms a memory while you sleep. Sleep deprivation often comes in the way of this. Alcohol weakens the hippocampus and stresses the brain cells, making it harder for the brain to create and form new memories. Stress is known to have an adverse effect on the hippocampus. Smoking thins the brain's cortical thickness, which impacts what you remember. Dementia is a disease associated with the brain that usually affects the elderly and causes some forgetfulness. There is a condition in which your body doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone called hypothyroidism which leads to forgetting things more often. The side effects of medications can involve forgetfulness as well. If you do not get enough Vitamin B12, psychiatric problems can develop and cause memory loss. In order to avoid forgetfulness, make sure to avoid smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, or stress. Be sure to exercise regularly and keep a healthy diet to avoid the risk of dementia and consume plenty of fish, poultry, cheese, egg, and milk products.

You should always know that forgetting is perfectly natural! Remember, every oops moment contributes to science. Every blunder can help us develop. This is exactly why scientists do what they do; to discover the unknown. I forget so often that I’m pretty sure that one day I’ll forget where I kept my brain! Nonetheless, science progresses. I know that it sounds corny but it is true. Our mind is wired so uniquely and we should continue a treasure hunt for knowledge. All in all, I hope you enjoyed this article and continue to learn and expand!

Stay in school and don't forget to do your homework!



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