Becoming more forgetful over the years is one of our main causes of concern and for good reasons. What starts as a mild and common form of forgetfulness can sometimes lead to serious health illnesses for our brains, such as dementia. But a new theory claims that it can even go the other way around: we can actually learn by forgetting!
How can such a wild theory even exist? Every human being forgets a lot of stuff during a lifetime. According to the new study that was published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience and that SciTechDaily.com tells the world about, predictability and environmental feedback are the basis for changes in humans’ ability to access some of the memories. Therefore, forgetting could be a functional feature of our brains that allows them to interact with the environment in a dynamic way.
Dr. Ryan, one of the scientists who proposed the new theory, said as quoted by SciTechDaily.com:
Memories are stored in ensembles of neurons called ‘engram cells’ and successful recall of these memories involves the reactivation of these ensembles. The logical extension of this is that forgetting occurs when engram cells cannot be reactivated. The memories themselves are still there, but if the specific ensembles cannot be activated they can’t be recalled. It’s as if the memories are stored in a safe but you can’t remember the code to unlock it.
Our new theory proposes that forgetting is due to circuit remodeling that switches engram cells from an accessible to an inaccessible state. Because the rate of forgetting is impacted by environmental conditions, we propose that forgetting is actually a form of learning that alters memory accessibility in line with the environment and how predictable it is.
Dr. Tomás Ryan is an Associate Professor in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology from the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin. He proposed the theory along with Dr. Paul Frankland, who’s a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto and also the Hospital for Sick Children from Toronto.