We all know from life experience that anytime you’re broken-hearted, hearing a song that reminds you of that person brings back a wave of memories and nostalgia that would otherwise lay dormant. In order to intentionally forget this person, you would most likely delete any playlists or songs that open the floodgate of memories associated with your ex-partner.
Researchers at Dartmouth College have discovered that both good and bad memories are inherently linked to the context in which you experience the memory.
This article will give us the views of a few researchers on intentional forgetting. The first researcher that we’ll focus on is Tracy H. Wang, she’s a research Affiliate Postdoctoral Fellow of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin.
‘Intentional forgetting’ is a scientific context involving drawing attention away from an item, or disengaging with a memory. But the research that she has published recently has presented a counterintuitive finding: that when you draw a little more attention to memory, you have a better chance of forgetting it. What she and her colleagues found was that when people engaged more with the information they were trying to forget, they were, in certain conditions, more successful at forgetting it.
If they engaged with the memory too much, they strengthened it; if they completely disengaged the memory, it wasn’t modified at all; but if they engaged just a little bit, or a moderate amount, then the memory was more susceptible to forgetting, it was a finding that they validated by testing their behavior later on. According to her the real takeaway from this research is that we have an impact on whether memories are remembered or forgotten.
The second researcher is Robert A. Bjork a Research Professor, at Cognitive Psychology, UCLA. His main research is on directed forgetting through various experiments that he conducted. In controlled experiments they would give somebody something to remember—a list of words, saying—and then at some point they’d say: okay, that list was just for practice, here’s the real list. This improved their recall for the second list, but severely worsened their recall of the first.
Sometimes people who are victims of child abuse that involves a parent are motivated not to keep thinking about those abusive incidents. They may choose instead to think about the family picnic, camping trips, and other things from their past, and that will gradually make the other things less recallable. It’s not an erasure: the way memory works, forgetting in particular, is that things become inaccessible, but they’re not gone.
If they’re presented again, they can usually be recognized; they can be relearned. The last researcher that we’ll focus on is Justin Hulbert an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Memory Dynamics Lab at Bard College. According to him, the efforts to forget or suppress unwanted memories can have long-lasting consequences. Such as, motivated forgetting can be a powerful tool used to shape one’s inward life and out- ward perspective.
The extent to which one’s current physical context (one’s location) and mental context (whatever happens to be on one’s mind) overlap with those present during the original event makes it easier to remember it. We could also attempt to establish new, more positive associations with reminders of the original event, or, instead, retrieve substitute thoughts in place of the embarrassing memory. Suppression has been linked to decreased activity in the hippocampus which is known to support both the retrieval of old memories and the formation of new memory associations, so we may be unknowingly reducing our hippocampal activity by focusing on the present.
This won’t work for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as it involves intrusive memories that keep coming back – often suddenly and unexpectedly. Studies have found that people with this condition are less able to suppress memories.
The negative aspects of this particular strategy are associated with a systemic downregulation of the hippocampus. While disrupting retrieval in this manner may be in line to stop an unwanted memory intrusion, disrupting encoding abilities risks an unwanted side effect of memory control: amnesia for events that occur around periods of suppression— what we call an “amnesic shadow.”
You can rewrite your terrible memory in a way that lessens the emotional damage by making your brain reconstruct it repeatedly. Although you won't be eliminating your memories, they will be less painful to recall. Coping mechanisms are various and variable from one person to another. Meditate, Do Yoga, Draw doodles; Suit your comfort, distract yourself and find a minor escape by creating your Memory eraser.