Rats and humans share the capacity of selective forgetting, thus getting rid of those distracting memories, using brain regions similar to those used by people, which plays a “fundamental role” in the adaptation of these mammal species to their environments, according to a study by the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
It is estimated that the human brain includes about 86 billion neurons and up to 150 billion synaptic connections, making it a machine for processing and storing memories, which helps in daily tasks but creates the risk of being overwhelmed by the amount of information. Thus, humans have the ability to actively forget distracting memories, as Professor Michael Anderson demonstrated in a previous study at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit of the Medical Research Council, University of Cambridge.
“The mere fact of remembering is one of the main reasons why we forget, shaping our memory according to its use,” he said.
In the study published in the journal Nature Communications, Professor Anderson, along with other researchers, has shown that the ability to actively forget is not a “peculiarly human” characteristic, but that rats also share this ability and use a very similar brain mechanism, suggesting that this is a shared ability among mammals.
Rats and Human Share The Same Selective Forgetting Mechanism In The Brain
To prove it, researchers have studied rats’ innate sense of curiosity. When placed in a specific environment, rats actively explore to learn more about it, forming memories of any new objects they find. On this basis, the rats studied different items, first, for five minutes, after which they were removed from the ground for 20 minutes and later resumed the task with various objects.
When the rat’s brain region, known as the medial prefrontal cortex, was temporarily “turned off” using medication, the animal completely lost its ability to selectively forgetting, despite going through the same tasks as before. In humans, the ability to selectively forget in this way involves the analogous region in the prefrontal cortex.
Therefore, rats seem to have the same capacity for selectively forgetting as humans, using a similar brain mechanism. Thus, a better understanding of the biological underpinnings of these mechanisms can “help researchers develop improved treatments to help people forget about traumatic events,” Anderson concluded.