Washington - 15 January ANI A team of scientists has proposed a theory that forgetting is a form of learning.
The scientists of the new theory said that changes in our ability to access specific memories are based on environmental feedback and predictability. Instead of being a bug, forgetting may be a functional feature of the brain, allowing it to interact dynamically with the environment.
In a changing world like the one we and many other organisms live in, forgetting some memories can be beneficial as it can lead to more flexible behaviour and better decision-making. If memories were gained in circumstances that are not wholly relevant to the current environment, forgetting them can be a positive change that improves our wellbeing.
In effect, scientists believe that we learn to forget some memories while retaining others that are important. The cost of forgetting is something that is at least in some cases due to altered memory access rather than memory loss, according to a growing body of research.
The new theory was proposed by Dr. Tomas Ryan, Associate Professor in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, and Dr. Paul Frankland, Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Dr Ryan and Dr Frankland are fellows of the Canadian global research organization CIFAR, which enabled this collaboration through its Child Brain Development program, which is pursuing interdisciplinary work in this area.
Dr Ryan, whose research team is based at Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute TBSI, said Memories are stored in ensembles of neurons called 'engram cells' and successful recall of these memories involves the reactivation of these ensembles. The logical extension of this is that forgetting occurs when engram cells can't be reactivated. The memories are still there, but if the specific ensembles can't be recalled, they can't be recalled. It's as if the memories are stored in a safe, but you can't remember the code to unlock it. Our new theory proposes that forgetting is due to circuit remodelling that switches engram cells from access to an inaccessible state. He said that forgetting is a form of learning that changes the memory accessibility in line with the environment and how predictable it is because of the rate of forgetting.