Our Memories Can Retain Only Meaningful And Useful Information Over Time

Brain news: Researchers found that while certain parts and details of the memory are lost overtime, only the central gist is preserved.

It has always been an area of investigation for researchers to figure out why memories fade over time, what information is preserved in memory and which parts get lost. Researchers at University of Birmingham designed a simple computerised task that measures how fast people can recover certain characteristics of visual memories when prompted to do so.

Participants learned association between verbs and object images, and were later asked to recall the objects when cued with the verb, immediately and after a two-day delay. For example, participants were asked to recall as fast as possible, if the image was coloured or greyscale (a perceptual detail), or whether it showed an animate or inanimate object (a semantic element).

Reaction time patterns revealed that participants were faster to recollect meaningful, semantic elements than surface, perceptual ones. This is why when many people re-tell their stories or life experiences, they tend to forget the surface details but retain the meaningful, semantic content of an event.

Semanticization refers to remembering when was the last time you went to a movie theater and with whom but unable to recall the exact color of your dress or say you remember the last time you had dinner with your best friend at an amazing restaurant but cannot remember the exact interior decor. When we frequently recall our experiences we only remember the gist and forget the surface details.

This study indicates that memories are biased towards meaningful, semantic content, which means we tend to preserve parts of the memory that are likely to be useful in the future.

To Know More, You May Refer To:

Lifanov, J., Linde-Domingo, J., & Wimber, M. (2021). Feature-specific reaction times reveal a semanticisation of memories over time and with repeated remembering. Nature Communications, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23288-5

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  • Our Memories Can Retain Only Meaningful And Useful Information Over Time