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Remembering to forget

Neuroimaging study suggests focusing on memory of unwanted experience may be required to forget it

Society for Neuroscience


IMAGE: Figure 2. GLM results for forgetting success (greater activity for successful intentional forgetting relative to successful intentional remembering, P < .001, k = 237). See Table 2 for complete univariate results. view more 

Credit: Wang et al., JNeurosci (2019)

Discarding information from the brain is associated with more mental effort than keeping it, finds a human neuroimaging study published in JNeurosci. These results suggest that focusing attention on the memory of an unwanted experience may be required to forget it.

Although the human brain automatically remembers and forgets information, these processes can also be controlled voluntarily. Previous research has linked intentional forgetting with redirecting one's attention away from the unwanted experience during memory formation and suppressing its retrieval once the memory has been formed.

Tracy Wang and colleagues instructed healthy young adults to remember or forget images of scenes and neutral faces. An analysis of functional resonance imaging data revealed forgotten images were associated with stronger activation of the visual cortex than remembered images. But not too strong - forgetting was most successful when this brain region was activated at moderate levels. The research provides evidence for a forgetting strategy that involves activation, rather than suppression, of unwanted information. This provides a new link between the voluntary control of visual attention and the long-term fate of memories.


Article: More is Less: Increased Processing of Unwanted Memories Facilitates Forgetting


Corresponding author: Tracy H. Wang (University of Texas at Austin, USA),

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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