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Why do we forget things? © Getty Images

Why do we forget things?

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I can't quite remember why I am so forgetful...

Asked by: Alireza Riasati, Iran

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Multiple explanations have been proposed. We may forget because we didn’t store the memory effectively in the first place. It is also possible that memories decay over time. As they have not been revisited, their biological ‘trace’ becomes weak.

Another theory suggests that new memories can interfere with older ones. Or that memories have been encoded and stored but that there is a problem with retrieval. Scientists sometimes refer to ‘motivated forgetting’ too, which involves forgetting an unwanted memory such as a trauma. This is controversial as there is also evidence that such unwanted events may be particularly difficult to forget.

Forgetting is not always a bad thing! It would waste cognitive resources if we remembered every last detail of the world around us.


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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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