SciShow

Watch: How to forget things on purpose

It's just like how you memorise things, but in reverse.

BEC CREW
3 DEC 2015
 

For people dealing with traumatic memories, the option to forget those memories might make them a lot happier. And forgetting those memories doesn't just mean being able to avoid thinking about them or somehow suppressing them - it means being completely incapable of remembering them because they've been deleted from your brain altogether. While scientists haven't quite figured out how to selectively 'delete' memories from the human brain, they're not that far off, as the SciShow video above explains.

 

It's related to how we naturally forget things - like our keys, wallets, special anniversaries - and the fact that we can actually train ourselves to forget things on purpose. The kind of forgetting that's involved in knowing where your keys are is passive, and it's not really something you can control. But as the video explains, there are actually active measures you can take to forget things too.

Want to know how it's done? Well, scientists think active forgetting is basically the opposite of memorisation, and they've done studies to better understand the necessary steps. But as Michael explains above, experimenting with humans who have very different perspectives, interpretations, and therefore memories - even of the exact same event - isn't easy.

So psychologists use a standardised test called the 'think-no think paradigm', which is based on the idea that if you repeatedly stop yourself from thinking about a memory, you can train your brain to forget it altogether. Yep, so just like you train your brain to remember something like your new phone or bank card number through repeated memorisation, you can theoretically train your brain to forget something through repeated... dememorisation? (Okay sorry, that's not a word.)

"So doing the opposite, practicing not thinking about it, or making sure you think about other things might make you better at avoiding the memory," says Michael. "If you avoid it often enough, maybe you'll eventually forget it. And this does seem to work."

As the video explains, experiments have been done on people who tried to both remember and forget things using the method above, and MRI scans showing activity in the brain revealed that they were actually much better at purposely forgetting things than they were at memorising things. 

There's actually been some really interesting research into this, so watch SciShow above to find out about the experiments scientists have run to try and get a better understanding of how we can selectively delete a memory from our brain. If you get good enough at it, maybe you can forget that I used the word dememorisation. Stop thinking about it!

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