The Homer Simpson effect: Forgetting to remember

Homer Simpson wasn’t a neuroscientist, but he evidently had some insight into how the brain works. In one episode of the long-running series, he explains why education is wasted on him: “Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain,” he tells Marge. “Remember when I took that home wine-making course and I forgot how to drive?”

Researchers say they have now observed this Homer Simpson Effect* in the brain for the first time. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) combined with behavioural tests, they show that the retrieval of visual memories causes forgetting of related memory traces. The work, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggests that the act of remembering past experiences might hinder our ability to recall similar events, or perhaps make our memories of them completely inaccessible.