Smart Brains Toss Out Trivia

Clearing the mind of useless facts boosts memory, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Forgetting trivial information can boost the brain's ability to remember the things that really matter, U.S. researchers report.

A University of Oregon team found that awareness -- visual working memory -- doesn't depend on extra storage space in the brain, but rather on the brain's ability to ignore what is irrelevant. The researchers likened this ability to a nightclub bouncer who manages crowds.

"Until now, it's been assumed that people with high capacity visual working memory had greater storage but actually, it's about the bouncer -- a neural mechanism that controls what information gets into awareness," study author Edward Vogel, an assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience, explained in a prepared statement.

The findings contradict the widely held view that a person's memory capacity -- which is strongly linked to intelligence -- is determined exclusively by the amount of information that you can stuff into your head at one time.

The study has a number of implications, the researchers added. It could lead to the development of more effective methods of optimizing memory, as well as improved diagnosis and treatment of cognitive problems in people with attention-deficit disorder and schizophrenia.

The findings were published in the Nov. 24 issue of Nature.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about memory.

SOURCE: University of Oregon, news release, Nov. 23, 2005

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