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Could the Act of Remembering Cause us to Forget?

Brain Health Brain Health

A new study from the University of Birmingham and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences unit in Cambridge suggests that the act of remembering could be the answer to why, in fact, we forget other memories. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the study looked at images of the human brain, which showed that the mechanism is implemented by the suppression of the cortical patterns that underlie competing memories. Therefore, when we remember, our memories become altered and in jeopardy of surviving.

“Though there has been an emerging belief within the academic field that the brain has this inhibitory mechanism, I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that recalling memories has this darker side of making us forget others by actually suppressing them,” explained Dr. Maria Wimber of the University of Birmingham.

Co-led by Dr. Michael Anderson from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit Cambridge Researchers, the team studied participants by MRI scans, and asked them to think of a specific moment based on images they were shown earlier. The test was able to track brain activity induced by participant’s memories, as well as show how this suppressed others by separating the brain into tiny three-dimensional voxels. Through these voxels, researches were able to see what happens to each participant’s memories, since they were previously stimulated and suppressed.

“People are used to thinking of forgetting as something passive. Our research reveals that people are more engaged than they realize in shaping what they remember of their lives,” said Anderson. “The idea that the very act of remembering can cause forgetting is surprising, and could tell us more about selective memory and even self-deception.”

For more information, visit www.birmingham.ac.uk/index.aspx.