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Author Topic: Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?  (Read 6000 times)

Offline Geezer

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It's probably common for us to get stuck trying to remember something, particularly names. We can remember lots of other information about the person, and even have a clear image of the person's face, but the name continues to elude us, and the harder we try, the less likely it seems we will ever remember the name. So, reluctantly, we give up.

Sometime later, when we are doing something completely different, and not trying to remember the name at all, it suddenly pops into our head, just as if our brain had sent us an email. (Sometimes this even happens in the middle of the night!)

Why is that then? Our brain clearly had the information all along, so why were we not able to instruct it to retrieve the information when we wanted it? After all, it is our brain!


 

Offline RD

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #1 on: 24/02/2010 08:39:05 »
A subconscious subroutine is apparently still working to find the information and isn't going to stop looking until it does,
 or a certain time period has elapsed.

[ see user illusion ].
« Last Edit: 24/02/2010 09:48:58 by RD »
 

Offline JnA

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #2 on: 24/02/2010 10:24:00 »
So, reluctantly, we give up.



you should give up if you don't retrieve the information - Retrieval-induced forgetting http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11082860
 

Offline Jessica H

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #3 on: 01/03/2010 02:42:09 »
I remember going to a talk where a cognitive psychologist at Ohio Wesleyan talked about this. She showed the same concept in an experiment- college students that took Spanish in high school (but not in college) were given a set of questions about Spanish vocabulary and grammar.  Later, she went back and re-tested them, and they actually recalled more of the answers the second time.

Her model was that we have two reservoirs of memories- one easily accessable, one distant.  And the act of trying to recall the distant memory can shuffle it into the easily accessable memory, but it can take time. 

(Unfortunately I can't seem to find any published work to this effect, after a quick search.)

So perhaps the act of recalling reinforces memories, which students using flash cards have figured out!

 

Offline Geezer

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #4 on: 01/03/2010 04:03:26 »
I think that could be a reasonable model Jessica. Less frequently used information does seem to become less accessible to us, but we really have not forgotten it even although, consciously, we think we have.

My personal opinion, based on not much, is that our brains compress unused information into a sort of archive so that it takes the smallest amount of brain energy to maintain the information. The cost is that if we do need to retrieve it, it takes a long time for our brain to find and decompress the information.
 

Offline chris

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #5 on: 01/03/2010 21:10:26 »
I think it's fair to say that we don't stop thinking about something when we stop consciously paying attention to it. Clearly unconscious processing takes place underneath that to which we are attending.

Chris
 

Offline Geezer

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #6 on: 02/03/2010 07:32:07 »
I wonder if there is evidence to suggest that sleep is an essential part of our brain's need to reorganize the information it retains? If so, this might suggest there is an upper limit to brain capacity.
 

Offline Jessica H

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #7 on: 02/03/2010 15:32:42 »
I have read about several studies that show the importance of sleeping in learning.  I think pulling all-nighters to study for exams is a bad idea for this reason!


An example:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/sleep-boosts-memory

I'm not sure I follow how this relates to an "upper limit" of memory?
 

Offline Geezer

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #8 on: 02/03/2010 17:23:05 »
Thanks! The upper limit idea (it is only an idea!) is that, if our brains had increased capacity, we might have to spend even more time sleeping. We already sleep rather a lot, so perhaps we are at a maximum practical brain size.
 

Offline Jessica H

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #9 on: 09/03/2010 01:45:01 »
Interesting! There would be a definite selective advantage to not sleep too long, since then you aren't getting food and avoiding predators. 

Having recently gone through childbirth, I tend to think the whole physical space issue is a bigger limiting factor on brain size.  Those babies' heads are big enough already! 
 

Offline EatsRainbows

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #10 on: 09/03/2010 15:10:23 »
Apparently the brain forms memory by way of a network pattern and things are linked in the network by association, cues are what draw a memory forth. Before I sound as if I've overlooked the initial post, perhaps the brains choice of cue for said person is not a face but... something like the place you met them.

Perhaps if one one is focusing hard on the wrong cue it may hinder locating a memory if that cue is really in no way associated to needed cue/s. How many highly differing things/tasks that require conscious attention can the brain process at once? Therefore if the cue is way off maybe the brain can't process the other area in order to locate said needed cue? So focussing could hinder....

Then as has been said here the brain does go on looking later on and bingo! there goes that cue.

Sometimes when i'm straining to remember i'll deliberately 'space out' my mind and often within moments i have what i was looking for.

Not sure if that's logical  or of any value :P lol... I think Its time to stop reading threads and sleep on it  ;)
 

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Why do you remember things when you stop trying to?
« Reply #10 on: 09/03/2010 15:10:23 »

 

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