Recovered Memories

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Last weekend I went to cut my grass but could not find my “grass cutting shoes.” I looked in a few spots that made sense, but couldn’t find them. Later while in the laundry room, I spotted my shoes under the laundry hamper and had a vivid recollection of putting them there the previous week. My question is why couldn’t I recall that memory earlier when I was looking for the shoes?

In: Other

Its about where that information is stored in your brain. Basically, what notion or concepts that pop up in your brain will lead you to the thing you are looking for. Or even better put, what did your brain associate that information you are looking for with. Usually what happens is that you try too hard to find the word and you end up focusing on a single chain of words to find the one you are looking for. Like if you try to find the word “apple” and keep thinking “fruit” and you only manage to come up with “banana”. Your brain simply wired itself so that if you think “fruit”, the first thing that pops in mind is “banana”, so if you just keep repeating “fruit” over and over, not only will you get annoyed that your brain keeps giving you “banana”, but you also stop your brain from going down any other pathway. Meanwhile, if you would have just thought “red”, the word “apple” would have popped up right away, but you are actively forcing your brain to keep thinking “fruit”. It’s also because of this that only later, when you stop locking your brain onto one word, that you maybe see a firetruck, which triggers the word “red” in your mind, which then gives you “apple” and you are like “Oh my God, APPLE. That was the word.”

P.S: I copy-pasted this from my own comment on another similar ELI5 post about why sometimes why simply cannot remember a word when we try, but then it comes back randomly at a later time. Hope it helps.

Depends. How old are you? Given that this incident wasn’t due to some age-related decline or other disease, there could have been a number of issues that lead to retrieval failure. There could have been an encoding error wherein the trigger for that particular memory was lost or not properly wired, so to speak. It’s the same concept that underlies primed vs spontaneous retrieval — think: multiple choice vs fill in the blank. One type of retrieval processes is much “easier” to do, granted robust enough triggers are established and presented. However, it takes some amount of effort and attention to encode information properly. If you’re not paying attention or you don’t make much effort in rehearsal (practice makes perfect), then it will be more difficult to retrieve certain information at will. On the other hand, there may have been a consolidation failure due to you having performed the same action enough times such that your brain consolidates or compresses data (“like with like,” if you will) in order to discard redundant information. Too much information slows down processing and processing capacity decreases after a certain age, with accelerated rates of decline being considered pathological. As far as what might’ve happened in your case specifically, it’s hard to say given the limited amount of information you provided but hopefully this has offered some insight.