Neurons are constantly in a state of growth or atrophy in their connections; dendrites stretching or disolving, neuro-chemicals enhancing or dimishing the oomph of connection at receptor sites. So it should be no surprise that each time you remember something, you strengthen that memory, and each time you don’t remember something, you weaken that memory. It is news though that remembering something will weaken related memories.
This is why I find philosophy useful: how to choose what memories and events and ideas to strengthen, and which to let fall by the wayside? Radical feminists constantly strengthen memories of injustice. Buddhist monks strengthen feelings of peaceful empathetic embrace. It takes a careful, examined philosophy to make a good decision about who to be, how to make the most accurate sense and have the most fun doing it.
For the first time, Stanford researchers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have discovered that the brain’s ability to suppress irrelevant memories makes it easier for humans to remember what’s really important.
“It’s somewhat of a counter-intuitive idea,” said Brice Kuhl, a doctoral student working in the lab of Associate Professor Anthony Wagner of the Psychology Department. “Remembering something actually has a cost for memories that are related but irrelevant.” But this cost is beneficial: The brain’s ability to weaken unimportant memories and experiences enables it to function more efficiently in the future, Kuhl said.
Kuhl and Wagner’s findings were published online June 3 in Nature Neuroscience in an article titled “Decreased Demands on Cognitive Control Reveal the Neural Processing Benefits of Forgetting.”
According to Wagner, the findings demonstrate the brain’s ability to discard irrelevant memories. “Any act of remembering re-weights memories, tweaking them to try to be more adaptive for the next time you try to remember something,” he said. “The brain is plastic—adaptive—and one feature of that is not just strengthening some memories but also suppressing or weakening others.”