Forget Me, Forget Me Not…

We tend to think of memory as a one-shot deal. We experience something and we either store it in memory or let it go. New research suggests otherwise: Fresh data can draw out latent memories.

Illustration by Edmon De Haro

You and your significant other are charging through your morning routine, exchanging last-minute chit-chat:

“I’ll make the vet appointment.”

“Are we out of sugar already?!”

“I have to meet with that intern and might be late tonight.”

“I love that dress on you.”

“Did you notice the car is making that funny noise again?”

If you’re like most people, only a tiny fraction of such an exchange will stay with you. According to neuropsychologists’ understanding of memory, the mundane experiences of our lives vanish into the mists of time unless they trigger one of three mental reactions:

They strike an emotional chord (“are we out of sugar” sounds to you like the accusatory “didn’t you put it on the shopping list when you finished it?!”),

they connect to your sense of self (looking good in a new dress = you’re fashion forward), or

they cause you to think deeply (“that car noise could mean a worn U joint on the drive shaft and…oh god, there goes the budget”).

New research has added a twist to that understanding, however: Memory gets a second chance. Future events, recent studies have found, can enable us to remember something that didn’t make it into our…