Forgetting worked on the principle of “all or nothing” and did not affect the accuracy of memory

Psychologists and neuroscientists have shown that over time memory is lost the availability of information, but not its accuracy, that is, forgetting works on the principle of “all or nothing”. The presence of additional prompts, which allow to associate information and to remember its cluster, allowed us to preserve memories by reducing their accuracy, in General, the amount of the lost information, the possibility to associate is not affected. Article published in the journal Nature of Human Behaviour.

Forgetting is an integral part of the memory and one of the tools of the study. Many studies of forgetting is dedicated to the question “where?” (temporal dynamics of the memory) and “why?” (forgetting is an active process or a passive collapse of the memorable tracks) but little-studied question “what?” about the type of lost information.

Forgetting may take two forms: the reduced precision of memory or its availability. For example, if you met with a friend in the Park near the fountain, you can actually forget about this event (the memory will be inaccessible) or do not remember, did you meet at the fountain or at the entrance (reduces the accuracy of memory). In some studies (1, 2) investigated these two aspects of forgetting and showed that this is not the extent of a single process, but two different mechanisms of the loss of memory associated with different parts of the brain.

Scientists from Britain and Canada under the leadership of Aidan Horner (Aidan Horner) from the University of York have invented a new paradigm of the experiment to study the accuracy and accessibility of memory. Study participants memorized the Association between a word and a position of the mark on the circle for the accuracy of memory has received a distribution of angular distances between the initial position of the label and response when testing, as for accessibility — getting into the distribution of von Mises (analogue of normal distribution for the circle). Used words from the two semantic groups: natural or man-made objects (e.g., “Fox” or “chair”). The mark corresponding to words from the same group were distributed around the circumference at random, and the second grouped in one area (the researchers suggested that to remember them easier).

The study was conducted in the following manner: 430 people were tested online. On the screen before them appeared a circle with a red mark, two seconds in the center of the circle there was a word. After four seconds the mark is transferred at a random position, and the volunteer had to return it to the place (as checked care participants). Just showed 200 words, 100 from each group and memory test was carried out, either immediately or through one of the time intervals (3, 6, 12, 24, 48 if 96 hours). At the appointed time, the volunteers returned to the site of the experiment and were tested: in the circle there is a word, it was necessary to place a mark at the appropriate position. After each trial participants answered that they were able to recall the word and the position of the label, only the word or anything.

Overall, as expected, the amount of reproduced information is sequentially decreased in each of the time intervals. But the difference between remembering grouped marks that are consistent with one type of words, and randomly distributed were observed. So, in the semantic clue was not a help for memorization.

Availability of information decreased between time intervals much faster than the accuracy of memory. In this case, a group of tips of one of the types of words helped to slow down the forgetting: the approximate position of the grouped markers participants are remembered longer, though the accuracy of the answers was lost faster (all p < 0.001). The ability to generalize events and combine them into an associative group helps to reproduce the information, but only approximately, due to the distinctness of memory. The authors also suggested that the participants could confuse the words of one group to mark a position that is consistent with another, similar in meaning to the word. In this case, the answer is really got in the right area, but not exactly match the question.

For randomly distributed markers discovered an interesting pattern: memory availability decreased with time (p < 0.001), but its accuracy has not been changed. The effect remained when the analysis excluded the results of the efforts in which participants answered that I did not remember a word or the position of the label (and therefore, answered randomly). It seems that the mechanisms of forgetting are working on the principle “all or nothing” is a memorable track can be erased completely, but the detail is over time does not change.

Gradual erasing from the memory of past events makes possible the emergence of false memories. Often we think that we are absolutely details remember some point, but it turns out that nothing like this has ever happened. About where and why the need for false memories, read our article “All that was not me”.

Alice Bahareva

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