How do you decide what to remember? I actually don't remember. I was hoping that you did.
No? Well, that's some medulla oblong garbage.
Hey folks, Matt Lieberman here for DNews. Our brains are capable of storing enormous amounts of information,
so why do we often feel like our brains prioritize the wrong things when it comes to long-term memory?
Every Monday on DNews, we answer your questions,
and Yash Bharti wants to know: "Why do I remember something that happened four years earlier
but I don't remember what I ate last night for dinner?" Good question!
Well, according to computational neuroscientist Paul King, our brains prioritize memory creation and storage based on what we subconsciously determine as useful for our long-term survival, to which I respond,
okay, that's all fine and good, but why did my brain remember several
names of Scooby-Doo episodes and nothing I learned in algebra?
I can't imagine a situation where my life will be saved by namechecking Jeepers, It's the Creeper or Go Away, Ghost Ship.
Well, your brain has no way of knowing what types of information will be useful in the future,
so it has a variety of criteria to determine what to hold on to.
First, your brain is really great at noticing patterns. Repeated facts, sights, sounds,
and experiences must all be examined to determine whether they're worth remembering or if they should fade from perception.
In addition, your brain prioritizes moments or facts presented earlier,
as they dictate what's to come, and whatever happened most recently,
as it's often the most relevant to your current situation. That's why most presentations begin and end with a summary of key points.
However, the element of surprise may be even more powerful than that.
A shocking or unpredictable outcome greatly increases retention,
which is why you remember more about last season of Game of Thrones than you do about where you left your keys.
I mean, unless you left them in the fridge. That would be incredibly surprising.
Unless you're a sitcom characters, I think that only happens in fake life.
On top of that, the brain also holds onto memories and thoughts that offer a strong emotional impact.
Moments of extreme joy, sadness, or anger, for example,
will always be easier to recall than clinical or boring moments, even if they're valuable for your continued success at work or school.
Finally and perhaps most significantly, your brain pays very close attention to moments and decisions that lead to positive and negative outcomes.
So Yash, maybe you can't recall what you ate last night for dinner because it was simply unremarkable.
If it had been incredible or god awful, that meal would've left a strong impression on you, and would dictate your future behavior.
Outside of those criteria, your brain decides what to hold onto through another method, called consolidation.
So, what's consolidation? Let's say you've just learned how to drive a car.
Every time you access the memories associated with your driving skills,
a.k.a. every time you get behind the wheel of a car, the neuronal connections to those specific memories get stronger, making them that much harder to forget.
Sleep has been shown to be vital to the consolidation of memories.
While sleeping, the brain processes subconsciously learned information into tangible knowledge for later use.
So if you really want to hold onto your memories and skills, go get a good night's sleep.
So now we want to hear from you: What's seemingly the most useless thing that you remember?
Let us know down in the comments and keep the questions coming, too.