Amnesia: New theory suggests it may be a form of learning
During our life we form countless memories that we sometimes forget. However why does this happen? Contrary to the general assumption that memories are erased with the passage of time, amnesia according to some experts it is not so bad, on the contrary it could be a new form of learning. Scientists, behind the new theory, point out that changes in our ability to access certain specific memories they are based on environmental feedback and predictability.
Forgetfulness could be a functional feature of our brain which is able to interact with the surrounding environment. In the world we live in that changes so abruptly, forgetting can be positive in that it can lead us to more flexible behaviors and better decision making. If memories are acquired in circumstances that are not relevant to the environment, amnesia can improve our well-being.
Amnesia, forgetting can be a form of learning
Scientists believe that very often we learn to forget some memories in order to give importance to other memories. A growing body of research indicates that, at least in some cases, oblivion is due to impaired access to memory rather than memory loss. Memories are stored in sets of neurons called “engram cells” and the successful recall of these memories implies the reactivation of these sets.
The logical extension of this is that forgetfulness occurs when these cells cannot be reactivated. The memories themselves are still there, but if the specific ensembles cannot be activated they cannot be recalled. It is as if the memories are stored in a safe but cannot remember the code to unlock it. The new theory proposes that oblivion is due to the remodeling of the circuit that changes the cells of the engram from an accessible state to an inaccessible one.
Since the rate of oblivion is affected by environmental conditions, they propose that oblivion is actually a form of learning that alters the accessibility of memory in line with the environment and how predictable it is. There are many ways our brains forget, but they all act for make the engram more difficult to access. The team point out that this natural oblivion is reversible under certain circumstances and in certain pathological states, such as in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This results in a noticeable reduced accessibility of engram cells and pathological memory loss.
Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay