Human brain finds it tougher to forget than to remember

Turns out that it’s not that easy to forget unwanted memories after all. New study suggests that voluntary forgetting drains the human brain more than trying to remember.

There are some heart-wrenching memories; some party nights that went horribly wrong, some “forever relationships” that never even saw the end of the month, or some loved ones that left our lives so suddenly that their mere memory left us heavy-hearted. When this burden of memories become too heavy to bear, we want to just forget about them and move on with our lives. Sadly, choosing to forget something uses more brain power.

Scientists have proved that it is hard for our brain to forget something than trying to remember it. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the brain needs more attention and have to focus more to forget an unwanted experience. The research extends the prior study on intentional forgetting, which included focusing on reducing attention toward unwanted information by redirecting focus from unwanted memories or suppressing its retrieval.  

Jarrod Lewis-Peacock, an assistant professor at The University of Texas, stated, “We often want to delete memories–such as traumatic experiences, that may trigger maladaptive responses–so that we can respond to new experiences in a more adaptive way.” He added that when we can figure out how to weaken the traumatic memories and figure out ways to control this we can develop treatments to help people get rid of their unwanted memories.

As per the study, human memories not static, but are a dynamic construction of the brain that often gets modified, updated, and reorganized through day-to-day experiences. Our brain is relentlessly trying to remember and forget information in it and most of such exercises happen during sleep automatically. The study focused on the perceptual and sensory areas of the brain, especially the ventral temporal cortex and the patterns of activity occurring there that respond to memory representation of visual stimuli.

The prior studies regarding intentional forgetting were focused on locating “hotspots” of activities in the brain’s control structures. However, the recent study was more focused on finding the sight of it. They used neuroimaging techniques to define the patterns of brain activity by studying a group of healthy adults. The scientists showed a number of images of scenes and faces to the group of people and instructed to either remember or forget them. The study concluded that humans have a unique ability to control what to forget, but such intentional forgetting needs “reasonable levels” of brain activity in the sensory and perceptual areas. However, humans do not need such high levels of brain activity to remember.

In simple terms, researchers confirmed that participants were likely to forget faces and scenes that carry more emotional value and information. Moreover, this research would help further studies that could help people get rid of unwanted memories that may harm their health and well-being.