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Friday, June 08, 2007

Forgetting Can Be Good - Solving the "Tip-of-the-Tongue" Problem

Ever forget something you know you know ... like a friend's name or some other equally embarrassing piece of information? It is on the tip of your tongue, but you just can't get it out.

New research suggests that the problem is caused by a failure to forget. That is, you remember too many wrong things that interfere with the recall of what you want.

Researchers at Stanford University recently clarified this problem by a study in which subjects were required to recall words from among many similar words that they had also seen but not required to remember.

Recall effectiveness ranged from about 30 to 80%, with better performance correlating with poor recall of those words that subjects were not supposed to remember. In other words, the better subjects could forget irrelevant information, the better they could recall what they were supposed to remember.

During all of the testing, subjects had their brains scanned by MRI, and these results showed a decrease in brain activity in the brain areas that detect and resolve memory competition as a given word pair was rehearsed. That is, as the learning progressed, there is a decrease in the amount of work the brain has to do. Interestingly, with the irrelevant word pairs, the effectiveness at forgetting was associated with still greater decreases in brain activity. That is, forgetting of competing memories lowered the required workload for remembering the relevant memories.

Clearly, "tiip-of-the-tongue" recall problems would benefit from strategies that improve the ability to forget irrelevant memories. I am not aware of any formal studies that tell you how to do this. My own experience suggests two things to do, which I explain on my Web site.

Source: Kuhl, B. A. et al. 2007. Decreased demands on cognitive control reveal the neural processing benefits of forgetting. Nature Neuroscience. Published online: 3 June; | doi:10.1038/nn1918.

Read more about it at
... and get "Dr. Bill's" book from that site so you will have a complete background on how to improve your memory.

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