The complexities of memory suppression
Memories have their virtues, but so does forgetting. If our episodic and potentially unlimited memory did not get rid of the many memories that have no bearing on our objectives, pursuing the latter would be hampered by this mass facing our cognitive resources. A team from the University of Liège took a closer look at the cerebral mechanisms of intentional forgetting. This original work was recently the subject of an article in the journal Plos One.
If the episodic memory didn’t eliminate anything, and if it kept the trace of elements irrelevant to our goals, our cognitive resources would be unnecessarily overloaded. Fabienne Collette, senior research fellow for the FNRS at CRC and ULg’s neuropsychology unit, considers that even our social relations would be disrupted if we didn’t forget numerous pieces of ultimately irrelevant information, resulting from our experiences. “If, for instance, remembering the least incident between you and another person was likely to invade your mind every minute of the day, it would be difficult for you to maintain a harmonious relationship with this person", she says.
A few cases of hypermnesia have been recorded. Those concerned are unable to forget. At the slighted opportunity, the memory of negative events, even minor, resurface, making the life of the sufferer unbearable; they complain that they are overcome by this memory. “Forgetting is adaptive”, Fabienne Collette insists.