Yesterday, a friend of mine told me that she failed to remember her cellphone’s password. She was worried that later in life she might suffer from a memory disease, such as Alzheimer’s, just like her grandmother. What she told me made me question once again the nature of forgetting.

Many people are concerned about forgetting things which are important for them in daily life: an important meeting, a deadline, the name of an acquaintance and so on.  But what if forgetting certain things is beneficial?

In one study, researchers instructed participants to study some common uses of household objects given by researchers, and then requested them to generate new uses for half of those. For instance, the word “newspaper” was presented to a participant with its common uses such as “gift wrapping paper”, “start a fire”, excluding its most common use: to read. The participant was asked to study it, and then s/he was asked to create new uses different than the ones given. Researchers found that participants who exhibited more forgetting generated more creative uses than the ones who probably used common uses that they had retrieved as a hint. In other words, there seems to be a positive relationship between forgetting and creative thinking.

Forgetting has healing effects as well such as helping us to recover from traumatic or painful events. As such memories are considered highly stressful for people who experienced them, forgetting becomes an adaptive response to avoid detrimental effects of stress.

Imagine that you never forget: you never forget your partner’s name who broke up with you or a family member who passed away… You remember them with all their edges. Perhaps, sometimes we should just appreciate forgetting, and enjoy the new room created for new memories.

For further reading

Bremner, J. D., & Marmar, C. R. (2002). Trauma, Memory, and Dissociation.  Retrieved from:

Storm, B. C., & Patel, T. N. (2014). Forgetting as a consequence and enabler of creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(6), 1594-1609.

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