It probably happened to you too. You put your keys aside… and when you looked up, you’d already forgotten. Yes, we are programmed to forget. However, sometimes it’s very difficult for us to do so. Our evolutionary process influenced this. What makes us remember something? Why do we forget certain things so easily?
Types of memory
At the end of the last century the American scientist Larry Squire made an interesting contribution. He distinguished something called declarative memory. It is the one we explicitly form and later consciously evoke. It helps to process autobiographical memories and acquired knowledge.
According to Squire we also have non-declarative memory, responsible for learning motor skills. They are acquired through experience and demonstrated through practice. For example, riding a bicycle. This specific form of memory would depend on subcortical structures, including the basal ganglia.
There is something else. Memories with high emotional content remain longer in our memory. Why? Because emotions inform the memory system of the degree of importance of each experience. High emotional significance (positive or negative) implies a longer lasting memory.
Emotions and memories
The permanence of these emotionally charged memories has helped us evolve as a species. By remembering significant events we have been able to shape our behaviour. In this way we prepare ourselves for the future, favoring survival.
So why do we forget certain things so easily? Often, because of a lack of attention to the environment around us. Losing the keys, forgetting an appointment: they are usually the result of focusing our attention on other stimuli. We cannot successfully remember what we do not pay attention to. There are a multitude of stimuli that attract our attention on a daily basis. But there are individual differences in the capacity to distribute attentional resources. That is, there are those who are more vulnerable to the interference of distracting information.
Imagine you come home and leave your sunglasses on the couch. Meanwhile, you’re talking on your cell phone. You take off your shoes, turn on the radio, go to the kitchen. These are all distracting sources that consume attentional resources. It’s likely that before long you’ve forgotten the glasses altogether.
Those who manage limited cognitive resources would remember that better. Why? Because they more effectively ignore distracting information. So, if you don’t want to forget your keys every minute, focus on avoiding it.