Why forgetting to do something at work isn’t such a bad thing after all

Psychologists and information scientists provide new data on how digital information systems support daily work and why it might not be such a bad thing to forget certain things.

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Why forgetting to do something at work isn’t such a bad thing after all

Psychologists and information scientists provide new data on how digital information systems support daily work and why it might not be such a bad thing to forget certain things.

With the rise in globalization and digitalization, workplaces and business dealings have grown more complex in recent decades. More information and data is being processed and becoming outdated at a faster pace. Having this organizations, companies, and individual workers are using digital information systems to remember facts and figures for them.

This era with global information and functional processing systems have led to a steady increase in the complexity of work and business processes. Anything that is up-to-date today can already be outdated tomorrow. As a result, decision-makers constantly need to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information.

Our first thought might be that when this is happening these systems may be dumbing down the people who use them, psychologists and information scientists at the University of Münster argue that they actually have the opposite effect. In fact, the ability to forget things makes people and organizations more able to act on things in the present.

Why we shouldn’t be worried about forgetting information

Traditionally, forgetting has been regarded as a passive decay over time of the information recorded and stored in the brain. But while some memories may simply fade away like ink on paper exposed to sunlight, recent research suggests that forgetting is often more intentional, with erasure orchestrated by elaborate cellular and molecular mechanisms. And forgetfulness is not necessarily a sign of a faulty memory. “In fact,, experts have been showing us that an intelligent memory system needs forgetting.

Forgetfulness has actually nothing to do with failure, forgetting may be the brain’s leading strategy in processing incoming information. Forgetting is essential, some researchers now argue, because the biological goal of the brain’s memory apparatus is not preserving information, but rather helping the brain make sound decisions. Understanding how the brain forgets may offer clues to enhancing mental performance in healthy brains while also providing insights into the mechanisms underlying a variety of mental disorders.

Using technology doesn’t hinder our memory abilities

The University of Münster’s Guido Hertel, Professor of Organisational and Business Psychology, and Professor Jörg Becker from the Institute of Information Systems, set up a simulation of a typical business process to test their theory. They simulated the process manufacturing companies often use to repeatedly decide how much of a company’s products are going to be sold in different countries.

Hertel and Becker found that the introduction of a supporting information system led to better economic decisions and also released users’ cognitive resources. Those workers who used the information system could better remember details of previous company decisions than people in the control group who did not have access to an information system.

Participants could better remember details of their company’s other products than could people in the control group, who made decisions without any system-based support and, as a result, had to retain more information in their memory. Even more importantly, the participants who were able to use the information system reported that they felt less stress when working on the complex tasks.
In order for a person to trust an information system, technical reliability and quality of the available information was essential.

What the researchers found interesting was that trust in the information systems was determined by a wide variety of influencing factors. Distrust, on the other hand, already arises with one single problem- for example, a one-off technical problem.

The results of the study provide an initial model for the design of trustworthy – and, as a result, efficient – information systems, allowing decision-makers in organisations to forget unnecessary information.
These findings provide further motivation for creating a trustworthy information system that allows people to forget bits of unnecessary yet important workplace information. The team will now look at how other workplace-related factors influence forgetfulness such as costs arising from wrong decisions or personal orientation toward safety and security.

The aim of the studies is to adapt information systems in the best possible way to various general conditions.