4 Science-Backed Benefits of Being Forgetful

Most people would probably admit that they’d like to have a good memory. After all, nobody likes to forget somebody’s name, where they put their keys or why they just walked into a specific room.

Being forgetful comes with its fair share of embarrassments and inconveniences, but a new study published in the science journal Neuron claims that even though the brain has plenty of room to remember virtually everything we experience, it still functions in a way that makes us forget certain information. Forgetting, believe it or not, actually benefits us in all sorts of different ways.

Here’s how.

1. Forgetting helps you adapt to new experiences.

The information your brain took in during an experience that happened days, weeks, months or years ago could be outdated or irrelevant now and in the future. The researchers pointed to a previous study that involved training maze to navigate a water maze to get to the hidden platform. Some of the mice were given a drug that would make them forget where the platform was and then let them try to find it again after moving the platform to a different location. The mice that received the “forgetful” drug ended up finding the new location faster than the mice who could remember the original location.

2. Forgetting makes you more efficient.

Your brain might forget a lot of irrelevant information from past experiences, but it also holds onto several key details that can be quickly accessed when you experience a similar situation once again. For example, you might completely forget the exact steps of a recipe you made for dinner last week, but you might be able to recall most or perhaps all the ingredients you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work to be able to make it for dinner again.

3. Forgetting helps you make better decisions.

Rather than operating like a big filing cabinet full of information of equal importance, your memory functions more like a prioritized list. The important stuff stays closer to the top of your list while the unimportant stuff falls to the bottom (and is eventually discarded). Forgetting irrelevant information essentially allows the brain focus on information that’s going to help it make the best decisions in the future.

4. Forgetting helps you think more creatively.

To be more creative, your brain might actually have to let go of information that’s holding you back. In a related study, participants were presented with uses for common household objects (for example, newspaper: paper mâché, gift wrapping, start a fire or a tablecloth). They were asked to spend time studying their presented uses in one experiment and then spend one minute thinking of new uses for them in a second experiment. The participants remembered fewer of the original uses during the thinking experiment compared to the studying experiment, suggesting that thinking of new uses led to forgetting what they studied. Interestingly, the participants who came up with some of the most creative new uses were the ones who experienced greater thinking-induced forgetfulness.

Forgetting is part of life, but you can help keep your brain and memory healthy by starting with your lifestyle habits, such as your diet. Check out these 20 foods to boost brainpower and improve memory.

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74 comments

Melania Padilla
Melania Pabout a year ago

Number 1 I think is right!

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Freya H
Freya H1 years ago

I know the feeling, Shelia D. I have found that, if you want to remember something and it eludes you, think of something else and the answer you need often pops into your head at an unexpected moment.

A good memory is important, but too many memories can be burdens. Under some circumstances it is a good idea to purge your memory. Playing certain games can be difficult if your memory is too good because you may remember the wrong thing. For example, concentration-type games can be hard if you play the same game over and over again because your memory of where things are get stacked one on another so you forget where a specific item is during later iterations.

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William C
William C2 years ago

Thanks.

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W. C
W. C2 years ago

Thank you.

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Sheila D
Sheila D2 years ago

It can be very frustrating when trying to think of a specific word and only being able to remember the definition, or someone's name that you should know, or so many other embarrassing moments of forgetfulness. Thanks for the optimism of the post.

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heather g
heather g2 years ago

I don't enjoy becoming tongue-tied in the middle of a story because I can't remember the name of one item. Perhaps it's the look on the person's face who patiently waits during the delay. Aghgghghh....

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Carol S
Carol S2 years ago

I make lists!

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Margie F
Margie F2 years ago

You can also get away with a multitude of excuses.

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Mahalia W
Mahalia W2 years ago

Thank you!

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Winn A
Winn A2 years ago

:-)

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