Most likely, you have uttered the previous two words countless times in your life. I know I definitely have. Thus, I decided to turn to science so I could find out the answers to the following questions: What causes people to forget things, and what are some ways that people can improve their memories? By doing this, I hoped to apply these strategies to my own life so I could become less forgetful.
What Causes You To Forget?
There is no one unquestionably accurate theory about why people forget things; on the contrary, there are many theories that have yet to be determined to be correct or not.
One of the two main theories about what causes you to forget is called “decay theory”. It states that, whenever a memory is created, there is a change that occurs in the tissue of the nervous system. This is known as a “memory trace“. Furthermore, it states that, over a period of time, your past memory traces begin to fade away. If the memories are not recalled periodically, the traces will disappear permanently after a while, leading to you forgetting the memory.
The second theory is known as “interference theory”. It states that memories that are similar to each other compete with each other to be remembered. There are two types of interference that are described in this theory: proactive interference, which is when old memories interfere with the process of creating new memories, and retroactive interference, which is when new memories interfere with the process of recalling old memories.
Improving Your Memory
Getting more exercise is one way that you can improve your memory. An example of this is that after someone finishes running, they may experience a sensation of happiness and calm; this is known as a “runner’s high“. Neurons are the types of cells in the nervous system that carry signals all throughout your body; one of the types of neurons are postsynaptic neurons. When postsynaptic neurons are activated, for instance, through exercise, they prompt their fat cells to form molecules known as endocannabinoids. This causes the feeling of a runner’s high. The formation of endocannabinoids can improve your memory because it has an antidepressant effect that leads to the promotion of growth in the part of your brain that controls memory: the hippocampus.
Another thing that is vital to do if you want to improve your memory is to get more sleep. An extremely important memory function occurs during the time when you sleep; this function is called consolidation. During the process of consolidation, memories that are stored in your short-term memory are moved to your long-term memory. This ensures that the memories are stable so that you can recall them later. If you do not get enough sleep, there will not be enough time for consolidation to happen in full, which will make it harder for you to clearly access your memories later.
Cutting back on stress can also be beneficial for your memory. When you are stressed, the amount of one of the hormones in your body, called cortisol, drastically spikes; for this reason, cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”. The increased amount of cortisol damages the hippocampus by causing it to lose a large number of neurons, and consequently, to be reduced in size. Cortisol also acts as a stimulus for the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions; however, by doing this, it makes the brain focus on mostly emotions, which makes it hard for the brain to take in and memorize information.
Currently, I am eager to hear about any future scientific discoveries that are related to why people forget things. It is a very interesting topic that is also quite helpful for the daily lives of most everyone.
Thank you for reading!