Why We Need To Forget

Why you need to forget to remember. The importance of temporary forgetting.

By Camille Chatterjee, published on March 1, 2000 - last reviewed on January 21, 2013

We tend to lament our propensity to forget with age. But the truth
is, the only way to remember the vast amount of data we do—from one's address to a best friend's favorite color—is, paradoxically, to

Scientists have begun to understand the importance of
forgetting in remembering, says Neil Macrae, Ph.D., an experimental
psychologist at the University of Bristol in England. Every time we
recall a fact, like where we parked the car, we also
unconsciously curb connected but extraneous facts, like where we parked
last week. This automatic—and crucial—phenomenon is known as temporary
forgetting. True, the memory-boosting mechanism can backfire. Macrae has
found that when cramming for a test, for example, we repress any related
facts that we neglected to study, making it harder to recall them on exam
day. Still, the ability to remember life's details renders its downsides
trivial. Without temporary forgetting, one would be unable to furnish one's
telephone number or the name of one's favorite Pink Floyd album.