Cognitive ignorance and selective memory

David Holt
Cognitive ignorance and selective memory

Has it happened to you that you meet someone who claims to know you but no matter how hard you try, you don't remember him? When you meet someone, you cognitively make the decision as to whether the individual is of interest to you or not, when it does not work out that way, the process of cognitive ignorance can start. There are other factors that could influence the apparent “forgetting”, therefore, to be classified as such, other criteria must be excluded, such as those of neurophysiological origin, since perception, and especially attention and memory are complex cognitive functions that tend to be selective.


  • The importance of first impressions
  • What other factors come into play with "cognitive ignorance"?
  • Cognitive ignorance and selective memory
  • Prejudices and stereotypes as psychosocial factors of cognitive ignorance
  • Improve personal data recovery in 6 steps
    • Conclution
    • Bibliographic reference

The importance of first impressions

People are constantly making judgments about what surrounds us and the people we meet on our way, this is a process that we carry out mainly unconsciously, since we have a natural tendency to make evaluations, this can help us to distinguish certain characteristics in the others, with which a classification is made. This process generally occurs unconsciously.

When we meet a person we did not know before, it is said that we start from zero contact, if for different reasons we establish contact with him, at the beginning it is usually superficial and it is decided whether or not the person has any interest for us. If he has qualities that catch our attention or appeal to us in some way, we can most likely remember him, otherwise cognitive ignorance will kick in..

In case the person lacks interesting attributes in some sense for the other individual and does not stand out much among the others, the subject may "be forgotten", or what is more precise: his memory will be stored but the recovery of the memory will be inaccessible, this process is known as: cognitive ignorance (Rodin, 1987).

What other factors come into play with "cognitive ignorance"?

The phenomenon of cognitive ignorance comes into play with the help of other processes such as: attention and selective memory; Likewise, cognitive biases intervene, among which the halo effect stands out, among other types of hierarchies. Also, sociocultural factors such as prejudices and stereotypes are linked, since they collaborate with the aspect of the classification that we make of people, these aspects influence the way of perceiving the reality that surrounds us; Cognitive ignorance is a subjective process, as it depends on the particular context of each person.

Cognitive ignorance and selective memory

This is a topic that has been of great interest to cognitive psychology. There are objects and people that can seem to be "easily forgotten"; the cognitive process of memory, allows the brain to encode and store the information it captures, it is even capable of preserving memories that you are not aware of, so why can't you remember that person who seems to know you?

The memory operates in a similar way to a computer, it has the capacity to store large volumes of information, however, a classification system is required to identify the location and "update" of the retained files to be able to use them at the moment. just when they are needed, this would correspond to data recovery, a key phase of memory that allows access to all the information that is stored.

When the brain perceives that something lacks "relevance", it filters the information and classifies it as such, and despite the fact that it stores it, it saves it in a way, which can sometimes prevent retrieving or accessing that memory.

In the event that the difficulty in remembering people's names often occurs or it is not possible to identify very well where they know them from, it is necessary to rule out physiological and neurological factors that could have generated forgetfulness, when the problems memory are frequent, it is advisable to see a psychologist, who can provide strategies to work on improving a process as important as memory, mnemonic techniques can be some of them.

Prejudices and stereotypes as psychosocial factors of cognitive ignorance

Throughout development, people meet others and face situations to which they often respond with typical patterns of behavior, cognitive ignorance may be one of them. Humans tend to "tag" people. Research has shown that positive affect leads to liking others, while negative affect leads to dislike (Krosnick et al., 1992). Interpersonal attraction factors play an important role in this process.

Stigmas are characteristics perceived in a negative way, as they can be for some people: race, age, sex, religion, physical condition, sexual preference, among others, aspects with which they can develop a negative association for some reason.

"Even if a stigma is transcended, the affect associated with the previous stigma does not necessarily dissipate." Rodin & Price, 1995.

Stereotypes have a great influence on the perception of different aspects of our daily reality, when they lack flexibility, or are too rigid, they can be excessively simple and limited to determine a person or a social group, many stereotypes are based on social stigmas and prejudices.

It is necessary to train the new generations with a more inclusive and global culture, where prejudices and sociocultural stigmas are not a “wall” that divides people, that generates hatred and violence between peers, but rather represents an opportunity to join efforts aimed at achieving better results, through collaboration in prosocial causes, always within a framework of respect for the rights of those who are different from ourselves.

“The conduct performed is an insignificant part of the possible conduct. Man, at every moment, is full of unrealized possibilities ”. Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky

Improve personal data recovery in 6 steps

  1. When you meet someone, try to pay attention, since this process is also selective, identify something characteristic in the person for which you can remember them later.
  2. Associate to the image of the person, a particular characteristic in it that you choose, as well as its name, link this with some object and a place, which can serve as a reference, with which you can facilitate the subsequent recognition of the location of that "file" or memory. For example: if the person is called "Margarita", perhaps you could build the image of a daisy in a green meadow.
  3. Imagine a "mental screen" and enter that data, visualizing this information in your mind, within the screen that you created.
  4. Avoid prejudice. Make sure that your classification and the assignment of factors of easy association, are in an area of ​​respect towards the particular characteristics of the person.
  5. Practice regularly. By doing this simple exercise frequently, you can improve that aspect of your memory and remember the people with whom you have had contact even in a superficial way, otherwise psychological assistance is recommended.


Cognitive ignorance intervenes with complex cognitive processes such as perception, attention and selective memory, in turn, it is influenced by personal attraction factors, cognitive biases, psychosocial aspects such as prejudices and stereotypes. It is necessary to educate the new generations in an environment of respect and tolerance, to build and promote a more inclusive and global culture, which participates in prosocial causes..

Memory can improve through simple mnemonic techniques, when there is a more serious problem and "forgetting" is constant, it is advisable to visit a psychologist, who can help determine if this happens due to other causes that could affect health and the development of the person, otherwise it can collaborate to improve social and cognitive skills.

Bibliographic reference

  • Paez, D., Fernádez, I. et al. (2004). Social psychology, culture and education. Madrid: Editoral Pearson Education.

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