|Why do people forget what they read? |
|Question Date: 2019-02-01|
Memory is a very interesting part of us.
Neuroscience researchers may tell us that our
neurons (long cells in our brain and bodies
responsible for transmitting thoughts and
regulating our actions) form networks with one
another to process what we see, hear, taste,
touch, smell, etc. into working memory, and short-
and long-term memory. Short-term memory refers
to the memory that holds a small amount of
information, such as a phone number.
Working memory refers to the capacity to hold
limited information and to process that
information, and an example of this type of memory
is remembering the numbers and procedures in a
particular math problem as you are solving it.
After solving that problem, you will most likely
not remember anything about that specific problem
because you're no longer working with those
numbers and procedures. Long-term memory refers
to (according to one model of cognitive science) a
state in which information is held in memory
indefinitely, such that we can recall the
information months or years from the moment at
which the information was received.
Long-term memory is not automatic; long-term
memory of a piece of information or a process
usually requires repetition. When we read,
our short-term memory is active, and depending on
the purpose of the reading we are doing, our
working memory is also likely active most of the
time. However, if we do not deem the information
important enough, we will not re-read or rehearse
the information and we will therefore not form any
long-term memories of what we read. This is part
of the reason that we forget magazine covers at
grocery checkouts or plots of the novels we read
for school, but we may choose not to forget the
plot of the new movie we just watched. To put it
another way, forgetting is natural, but
remembering takes work.
Our brains forget things because of a process
called working memory. There is short term
memory and long term memory. When we read
something, like the way you’re reading these words
right now, it goes into working memory, which
decides if it’s important. If we interact with the
material or our brain thinks we need it for the
future, it gets stored into long term memory.
Working memory is important because it’s kind of
like a house-cleaner. We don’t need to store every
bit and piece of information we see or hear
because there just isn’t enough space in our
brain. Instead, working memory decides that we
don’t need to remember every street name we see,
but we should remember what street name we live on
because that’s important for the future, and it
stores it in long term memory. If you want to
remember what you read, however, you can increase
your chances of remembering it by interacting with
it, rereading it, taking notes on it, or rewriting
it in your own words. That’s why studying and
interacting with the material in school can help
you recall it on the test!
From what I was able to gather from a quick
search, this is an unanswered question in
psychology. Among the possibilities are (1)
that trigger memories are lost or no longer
interacted with; (2) memories are
by other memories; (3) biochemical traces that
trigger memories are degraded with time. Note that
none of these are exclusive with one-another!
Think how crowded our brains would be, if we
remembered everything we read.
And would we be able to sort the useful stuff from
the stuff that's not useful?
It's a nuisance, forgetting things when one wants
to remember them; but
there's probably a benefit to this, too.
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