The hidden benefits of forgetfulness
The pain of forgetting -
We have all had those excruciating moments where a vital piece of information is on the tip of our tongue, or we just can’t recall that person’s name.
Seeing the bright side - Research shows, however, that it can be harnessed as a powerful learning technique.
Basic theory -
In order to understand how forgetfulness can be beneficial, we need to understand how memories work.
Retrieval strength -
Rather, they have two components: retrieval strength and storage strength. Retrieval strength refers to how quickly a memory can be summoned.
Storage strength -
Storage strength refers to how fully represented the memory is in your mind.
Example: parent's name -
A memory with both high retrieval strength and high storage strength, for example, would be the name of your parent or sibling.
Example: phone number -
By contrast, a phone number that you learnt five minutes ago would have low retrieval and storage strength.
Retrieval vs. storage strength -
Using forgetfulness to our advantage relies on the interplay between the retrieval strength and the storage strength of a memory.
Effortful retrieval -
Research shows that we can increase the storage strength of a memory by what experts refer to as an "effortful retrieval."
Case in point -
Let’s look at an example to illustrate this point. Imagine you are at a party and you have just been introduced to a friend of a friend.
Spacing out study -
Spacing out one’s study schedule, for example, allows for the kind of forgetting that ultimately produces stronger memories.
Study breaks -
Setting study materials aside and then revisiting them later also helps students who may have a false sense of command.
The crammers -
Indeed, research shows that students who cram the night before do consistently better than their peers who follow a spaced-out study schedule.
The gradual learners -
It is only in the weeks and months after the exam has passed that the superior knowledge of those who studied gradually becomes apparent.
A crammer's world -
Of course, by that point, it’s too late. The crammers already have the better grades and the competitive advantage.
All in all -
The human brain has an outstanding capacity for recollection, and using techniques such as well-timed forgetting helps us tap into that potential.