Why We Forget: The Surprising Science Behind Memory Loss

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Forgetfulness may not be the sign you think it is…

If you’ve ever arrived home after a long day only to realize you have no clue where your house keys are, good news is on the horizon: A new study suggests that forgetting random memories isn’t necessarily a sign that your brain is atrophying, or that you have a medical problem. In fact, it just might mean that your brain is currently in fighting shape.

The study, conducted at the University of Southern California by a team of researchers, suggests that the act of forgetting isn’t a sign of your brain failing you, but rather the exact opposite: that your brain is working effectively on your behalf.

Oliver Hardt, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University, explained to Time that “[forgetting] is one of the most fundamental aspects of a memory system. Without forgetting, nothing would work.”

This might seem counterintuitive. After all, our memories are of the highest sentimental and logistical importance. Your life could quickly fall apart if you forgot your social security number, or how to speak your native language. Similarly, your life might lose all inherent meaning if you forgot crucial emotionally driven memories, like the birth of your child, or the last time you spoke with a loved one before they passed away.

Memories are what allow us to function, at a basic and spiritual level. But you’re only able to sort through those memories efficiently as long as your brain continues to do the important work of sifting through your memories and dumping the ones that are no longer “important.”

Consider what might happen if you didn’t forget many of your memories. “You would have an endless amount of useless stuff accumulating there constantly,” Hardt told Time. “And each time you want to think about something [important], all these memories would pop up that are completely meaningless and that make it hard for you to actually do the job of predicting what is next.”

Scientists are still doing research to understand all the ways our body might benefit from this memory-culling biological tool. In the meantime, you can check out which meals will help boost your brain health to keep it in tip-top shape.