A recent study has revealed that humans can selectively remember positive memories over negative ones—meaning you really can forget the bad times if you focus on the good.
How to Shed Bad Memories
It’s midweek and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had a couple of bad experiences so far and are looking forward to the weekend. But I have some good news for you: I recently found out that memory isn’t random. That means that by focusing your efforts on remembering positive experiences, you might be able to actively forget the bad ones.
A new study from the University of Birmingham is showing that intentionally recalling memories can lead to forgetting other experiences. Basically, the research is saying that the very act of remembering can cause people to forget!
It turns out that people can suppress certain memories by focusing on other memories that are either more preferable or are recalled more frequently. Simply recalling a particular memory—or multiple memories—again and again can push other memories to the back of your mind, resulting in a form of adaptive forgetting.
Tapping Into the Power of Selective Memory
Have you ever been accused of having a “selective memory?” It may seem like an insult, but it’s actually the truth for every human being. Humans are more likely to remember events in the way they perceived them and the way that best suits their interests or feelings at that time. Furthermore, there is scientific evidence indicating that memories change over time and are shaped by how you choose to remember them.
The stuff you choose not to remember can be pushed back further and further each time you recall a different memory. After all, the more you learn, experience, and remember, the more selective your memories become. Some things become more pertinent, and other stuff is edited to make more space for new memories that are important to you.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: A research team showed a number of subjects various images. Later on, the researchers asked each subject to recall the images and measured their brain activity with an MRI. During this period, they measured brain activity patterns brought on by individual memories, where they noticed some memories were suppressed at the expense of recalling others. Over the course of four selective memory retrievals, the memories participants were asked to recall became increasingly more vivid with each trial. At the same time, competing memories were less likely to be reactivated at each trial, and observations showed they were actually pushed back past baseline expectations for memory.
Forcing Your Mind to Forget a Memory Isn’t a Bad Thing
This basically shows that by recalling things more frequently, you can actively forget the things you choose not to recall. And this isn’t a bad thing! A selective memory can help you move past difficult experiences, improve your mood, and help you to remember the things you love the most!
This is a very important piece of knowledge to carry forward as you age. The older you get, the more memories you accumulate. Unfortunately, some of these memories can be bad. But by focusing on the good times that preceded the bad ones, say memories of a sick loved one, an injury, or an illness, you can stay positive and bring the good memories to the forefront. Actively recall the good times more often and you can push the bad ones away.
Sources for Today’s Article:
University of Birmingham, “New images of the brain show the forgetful side effect of frequent recall,” ScienceDaily web site, March 16, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150316135141.htm.
Association for Psychological Science, “New research explores why we remember and why we forget,” ScienceDaily web site, November 16, 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121116124559.htm, last accessed March 23, 2015.