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Forgetting can be integral to helping our brain remember.

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There are few things more frustrating than trying to recall a fact or memory and losing it. You may ask yourself if this is the beginning of mental decline or the beginning of a degenerative state. What you might not think is that forgetting is a good thing. But it can happen. New research on memory suggests that it’s actually a healthy and essential brain function – and one that’s becoming increasingly important in our rapidly changing lives. “You want to be able to adapt to your environment because your environment is always changing. But if you’re too fixated on your first experience, you won’t behave adaptively,” says Thomas Ryan Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Interestingly, his research also indicates that forgotten memories remain in the brain, so they can be retrieved if necessary.

Everyday forgetting – like not remembering what you had for dinner last week – is called natural forgetting. This is in contrast to pathological forgetting, which results from brain injuries or conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Far from being a problem, natural forgetting is one of our most unique and powerful traits – our ability to generalize. Although there are times when having a highly detailed memory is invaluable, such as when revising for exams or acting as a witness to a crime, we cannot generalize without playing fast and loose with the details. say Edwin Robertson at the University of Glasgow, UK. “To think of a chair as a chair,…