Do you sometimes find berating yourself just because you cannot remember something? Seriously, you should stop that. Scientists at Lund University in Sweden have found that the brain forgets things in order to conserve energy.
Earlier studies have also shown that our brain tends to erase unnecessary information so it can store, retrieve important ones and accordingly give new spaces for new ones. Forgetting helps us improve our short-term memory and remember important details. You should read why childhood memories are hard to recall.
The new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals that the brains are not only meant to learn, but they are meant to forget too. According to the researchers, the results of their findings explain a theoretical learning phenomenon that has so far been difficult to understand and now that they have been able to describe one of these mechanisms – learning and forgetting – at the cellular level. Researchers believe these mechanisms are likely to be similar in both the human and animal brains.
For the study, researchers infer that human or animal subjects can learn to associate a certain tone or light signal with a puff of air to the eye. So when the air puff makes the subject to blink, eventually they blink as soon as they hear the tone or see the light signal. However, when both tone and light are presented together (and with the air puff), the learning gets worse, reports Lund University.
“Two stimuli therefore achieve worse results than just one. It seems contrary to common sense, but we believe that the reason for it is that the brain wants to save energy”, says brain researcher and professor Germund Hesslow, in a university news release. One of his colleagues, who did the same study, has previously shown that when the brain learns particular association sufficiently, certain neurons hold back the learning mechanism.
“You could say that the part of the brain that learned the association (a part of the brain called the cerebellum) is telling its ‘teacher’: ‘I know this now, please be quiet’. When the brain has learnt two associations, the brake becomes much more powerful. That is why it results in forgetting, usually only temporarily, however”, explains Germund Hesslow, in a news release.
In order to maintain unnecessary association pathways, our brain may require excess energy. The researchers think this is why the brake on the learning mechanism comes into play.
Researchers say their findings are of fundamental interest for both brain researchers and psychologists and they believe they could also be of practical interest to educators.
“Obviously, it should be important for teachers to know the mechanisms by which the brain erases the things it considers unnecessary. You do not want to accidentally activate these mechanisms”, says Germund Hesslow.
[Hat Tip: Lund University, PNAS – Purkinje cell activity during classical conditioning with different conditional stimulus explains central tenet of Rescorla–Wagner model, Image Credit: Stocksnapper (Fotolia) via ScienceDaily]