Disclaimer: This is not a self help question, I am using myself as an example to illustrate my question.


I have posted many questions and answers on this site within a relatively short time. Frequently (and with my blessing) our Mod Jeromy will edit my question titles. He does not edit all of the titles.

I find myself browsing through the site, looking to upvote older questions, looking for unanswered questions. Sometimes (and too often) I come across a question and think, that's interesting, only to realise I posted the question. I do this with answers also. I think that's interesting and see I've posted it.

I can surmise, it is because of the sheer volume, perhaps stress and the inability to process memory. I am wondering if this is a known condition.


What causes this phenomena of failing to recognise one's own work?
Is it a recognised condition?
Which part of our brain is responsible for this?

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    $\begingroup$ I accidently reach my own StackOverflow questions from Google as they show up first in the results. When I encounter my own post, I can appreciate and like the (my own)style long before I recall the existence of that post. Does this seem a sufficient explanation for your case? $\endgroup$ Sep 8 '13 at 9:17

I would like to add a bit of terminology to @what's answer. Of course memory is a pretty big topic with different and sometimes conflicting theories and I would not consider myself an expert. Having this said, the distinction between Long Term Memory (LTM) and Working Memory is widely used, so I will use it, too.

The problem that you describe in your question refers to LTM. Even if @what does not actually use the term LTM in his answer, everything he says does refer to LTM. Furthermore he refers to two procceses that play a role in memory: encoding and retrieval.

Encoding vs. Retrieval

Encoding is the process of getting something from Working Memory into LTM. A stimulus is not remembered "as is", but rather it is processed. It might, for instance, be perceived as belonging to a certain category or it might have a strong emotional value (as @what suggested). This opens the door for quite a few theories of why some things are remembered better or faster than others.

Retrieval is the process of getting something from LTM back into Working Memory, so that it can be used there. It is possible that one has something in LTM, but for some reason is not able to retrieve it. (In fact, it has been said that we don't actually forget things, but there are things that we cannot retrieve, as @what said.)

LTM vs. Working Memory

To get back to your question: Not being able to recognise something might be because of either one of those things. Either there was a problem with encoding, or there is/was a problem with retrieving. In any case, in my opinion it is not possible to explain this phenomenon using the concept of Working Memory, as you did in your answer.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Great supplement, Jens. This actually motivates me to dig into the literature and find some research on forgetting. Maybe I'll do that in a month, when I have more time. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 7 '13 at 16:09

I'm using your example, because another example would lead to a different interpretation. Using your example is not meant to help you, just to illustrate my answer.

The normal situation is to forget things. There are people who dispute this, believing that you store any and all information you ever encountered (after all, what would the famous 90% unused brain be for?), but from a more scientific perspective, most of the info that goes into your sensorium is simply lost after it was used. Because you don't need to remember the color of the car that just passed.

So the question is, why and when do we actually store stuff in our memories? Short answer: when it appears important. Usually, because it is connected to an emotion. If you care about something, you remember it, if you don't, you won't. This does not mean that you only forget stuff that is unimportant, though. If you are stressed or distracted, important things are momentarily unimportant.

Interpreting your example from this perspective, we could infer that you did not much care about those questions you wrote, at least not individually, because you asked them for other purposes (passing the time, gaining reputation, socializing in a community), or that you have other more important stuff going on in your life and that you ask questions here as a distraction, while part of your mind is still elsewhere.

But then, there is another phenomenon: If you have a thought and want to remember it, it blocks your mind. I'm sure you have noticed how trying not to forget the great sentence that you want to begin your next novel with keeps you from having any other ideas. That's why writers carry notebooks: they jot down the sentence, and immediately forget it, freeing their minds to new ideas.

So when you write your question here, you are actually telling your mind: "Okay, that's done, now let's think of something else." And your mind complies, discards that idea, and starts thinking of other things, forgetting any former thoughts.


I agree with @what. I was going to edit his answer, but thought it would be better to post this as an adjunct to his answer.

The conclusions I have drawn here are my own ideas.

For individuals who are in the full-time occupation of deep concentration, through work, study, interests, their working memory is getting very little downtime.

Working memory is your brain's Post-it note, says Tracy Packiam Alloway, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. “It makes all the difference to successful learning,” she says.

You can think of working memory as the active part of your memory system. It's like mental juggling, says H. Lee Swanson, PhD, distinguished professor of education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. “As information comes in, you're processing it at the same time as you store it,” he says. A child uses this skill when doing math calculations or listening to a story, for example. She has to hold onto the numbers while working with them. Or, she needs to remember the sequence of events and also think of what the story is about, says Swanson.

Brief by design, working memory involves a short-term use of memory and attention, adds Matthew Cruger, PhD, neuropsychologist with the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. “It is a set of skills that helps us keep information in mind while using that information to complete a task or execute a challenge,” he says. Working memory is like a foundation of the brain's executive function. This is a broad and deep group of mental processes. They allow you to do things like plan ahead, problem solve, organize and pay attention.1

“Working memory helps us stay involved in something longer and keep more things in mind while approaching a task,” says Cruger. “And, how can you plan ahead if you don't use working memory to keep your goal in mind, resist distractions and inhibit impulsive choices?”

(What Is Working Memory and Why Does It Matter? By Annie Stuart)

An individual engrossed in mental tasks is going to be coming in and out of states where the working memory is, potentially, overloaded. So, for instance, coming to a site like this, may serve as a distraction from learning or working (This answer discusses the value of distraction as beneficial to work productivity); however a great deal of attention is required to focus effectively on the site.

So if an individual chooses a mentally demanding "distraction" (as in this example posting on a Cognitive Sciences site; for others it may be another form of intellectual hobby), they are flitting from one state of deep concentration, with an occupied working memory, to another. I would suggest that the focus upon one mentally demanding task and an alternate, less mentally consuming, distraction task would alleviate this overload.

The term working memory refers to a brain system that provides temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks as language comprehension, learning, and reasoning. This definition has evolved from the concept of a unitary short-term memory system. Working memory has been found to require the simultaneous storage and processing of information. It can be divided into the following three subcomponents: (i) the central executive, which is assumed to be an attentional-controlling system, is important in skills such as chess playing and is particularly susceptible to the effects of Alzheimer's disease; ....

(Working memory. Baddeley A.)

Although working memory itself, is not the same as long term memory, I am suggesting that an overloaded working memory, would interfere with the ability to multi task from one mentally demanding task to another completely different mentally demanding task.

This does not touch upon the effects of stress on memory, nor does it discuss the effects of attention on memory, as I think the notion of working memory being in a constant overloaded state would explain this phenomena.


After feedback, I would like to make my point clearer.

  • I am proposing that a working memory, that is being fully utilised, is not so easy to "clear" to create a concentrated focus on another mentally consuming task.
  • I have stated clearly that WM is different to long term memory (which stores the memory)
  • I am suggesting (if the problem isn't the actual storage of the memory, ie within long term memory) and given the description of the problem, that it could be the limitations of working memory.
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, I am afraid this is not an answer to your question. See my answer for an explanation. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 '13 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Great idea. Maybe we can find something on working memory and forgetting and how exhaustion plays a role. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 7 '13 at 16:12

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