Health & Wellness

Forgetfulness Is a Part of Intelligence

A bad memory for detail might not be a bad thing

By Katrina Caruso

In elementary school, we discover that memorization is one key to good grades, and many conclude from that that a good memory is a sign of intelligence. According to Canadian researchers, however, the ability to forget is as important as the ability to remember.

Our brains are built to forget as much as they are to remember, according to researchers from the University of Toronto Scarborough and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). The results of their work were published in the journal Neuron.

In their study, Blake Richards, a U of T assistant professor, and Paul Frankland, a U of T associate professor and a neuroscientist at SickKids, focused on the neurobiology of forgetting, also known as transience. Before now, forgetting things was often considered a failure by the brain to store information. In fact, the researchers argue, there are parts of the brain designed for memory loss.

Our memories are not there to help us hold on to everything, but rather to help us make informed decisions. It’s important that the brain be able to discard the clutter—useless, outdated, and irrelevant facts—in order to make intelligent choices.

The researchers concluded that “it is the interaction between persistence [remembering] and transience that allows for intelligent decision-making in dynamic, noisy environments.”

If you find yourself remembering only a part of an evening or of what your niece was talking about, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: your brain may be prioritizing more important information. So if you’ve always been envious of your friends for being so good at trivia, enjoy the fact that your brain has been making room for what it needs to remember.

Photo: iStock/wildpixel.