What is forgetting and why do we forget important things?

What did you eat last night? When was the last time you cried? What did you do on the morning of April 15, 2008 ^ How did you celebrate your third birthday? You probably weren’t able to answer all of these questions. What is the reason for this kind of forgetfulness?

Let’s see what are the neuropsychological mechanisms that explain this phenomenon.

What is forgetting?

Memories are not permanent because they stay in a constantly changing tissue in which some neurons die and some connections change or weaken. This means not only that we can lose the accessibility of the stored information, but also its availability in our cognitive system.

What is the difference between the two concepts? According to Endel Tulving, accessibility refers to the ease with which a stored memory can be retrieved at any given time, while availability refers to the presence or absence of a trace in the memory.

Thus, an experiment may appear to be lost in its entirety only because an appropriate recovery key that evokes memory was not presented. This would mean inaccessibility of the information at the time of recovery, but not necessarily loss of availability, so that it could be recovered at another time.

Type of forgetfulness

According to memory studies, there are two types of forgetting: intentional forgetting and accidental forgetting.. The former undertakes processes or behaviors that intentionally decrease accessibility for certain purposes, while the latter occurs without the intention of forgetting. This article will focus on the latter, showing a few factors that encourage and decrease it.

Factors that encourage accidental forgetfulness

Now, what factors influence when we just forget some relevant data?

1. Passage of time

The forgetting curve (described by Ebbinghaus), shows a logarithmic decrease in memory retention as a function of elapsed time (Known as Fingerprint Decay). In other words, over time we remember information less and less.

However, it is impossible to control such factors as the review of the recording or the storage of new experiences, which generates interference, making it difficult to empirically demonstrate the effect of time itself.

Other factors to consider are context fluctuations and interference.

2. Context fluctuations

When the accidental recovery context does not match the context present during encoding, Forgetting is more likely. Over time, contextual changes are usually more important, as the world changes and so do we. An example is the case of infantile amnesia, which refers to the difficulty most people have in remembering the first years of their life.

One possible cause is that children experience things very differently from adults than they become, things seem relatively bigger in childhood. (However, the maturation process they are in should be taken into account, as they have not yet developed the brain as adults).

3. Interference

Interference refers to the difficulty in retrieving similar stored traits. We are able to remember more easily and for longer, unique and easily differentiated experiences. For that, sticking to routines makes life less memorable.

The interference becomes important when the key which allowed access to the memory imprint of the object is associated with additional memories, due to the fact that several elements compete in order to access consciousness (hypothesis of competition). In other words, if we store information similar to the consolidated information, it is more difficult to access it. For example, the memory of a summer. We will remember more easily the year when we visited our neighbor’s village (unique experience) than the summer when we went to ours, because in the second case, going there every year, it will be difficult for us to discern what happened specifically in each one.

4. Presentation of some of the keys of the set

When part of a set of items is presented, the ability to remember the remaining items in the group is weakened.

This is due to exposure to one or more competing items, This aggravates the problems we encounter in regaining a certain objective memory. The logic, following the interference situation described above, is as follows: if the presentation of certain elements of the set strengthens the association of these elements with the key, the reinforced elements will produce more competition during the retrieval. items not shown and they will damage memory.

For example, when we do not remember a word (we have it “at the end of our tongue”), it is not advantageous for our knowledge to offer us a large list of terms because they will promote accessibility. of the same, but not the word in question.

5. Recovery

A paradoxical feature of human memory is that the very act of remembering causes forgetting. Intentional retrieval of an experience has an effect on memory.

If memories are retrieved periodically, their resistance to forgetting increases. However, we have to be careful what we are recovering from, because if we recover the experience repeatedly, we can bring up the memory of what we have recovered previously (with its own context and details), not the situation. original.

This means that the more often we retrieve an experience, the more retrieval events there will be in our memory. As long as the information retrieved is more and more precise and complete, the process will improve memory. However, if the memories are incomplete or inaccurate (due to interference made in attempts to reconstruct the event), what we remember may not be what originally happened.

For example, by selectively revising only a few subjects for review (lack of time), unexamined material will be damaged, especially if it is related to the revised one.

What factors slow down accidental forgetting?

The Jost Law says that if two memories are equally strong at any one time, the older one will be more lasting and will be forgotten more slowly. Thus, it is widely accepted that in principle, new strokes are more vulnerable until they are gradually etched in memory through the consolidation process.

Types of consolidation

There are two types of union: synaptic and systematic union. The first shows that the imprint of the experience needs time to consolidate (hours / days …) because it requires structural changes in the synaptic connections between neurons. So, until they happen, the memory is vulnerable.

The second argues that the hippocampus is necessary for memory storage and subsequent recovery (because it constantly reactivates areas of the brain involved in the initial experience), but its contribution decreases over time to this day, in which the crust itself is able to retrieve information. As long as memory fails to be independent of the hippocampus, it is more vulnerable to oblivion.

Bibliographical references:

  • Baddeley, A., Eysenck, MW and Anderson, MC (2010). Memory. Alliance.

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