How many times have you found yourself saying, “Now, what did I come in here for?” after you walk into a room? The reason you went into the room slipped your mind. You had a purpose in mind, but blanked out once you passed the doorway.
A new study out of the University of Notre Dame seems to indicate that it was the very act of entering through the doorway that actually caused the memory lapse.
“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” said Gabriel Radvansky, lead researcher on the study. “Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.” It seems that in our minds, crossing the threshold of a room is similar to the end of a scene in a movie.
The report, published in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, follows a series of experiments probing the relationship between memory and movement throughout the house.
Initially, Radvansky asked a group of volunteers to select an object from one table and exchange it for an object from a table in another room. Another group was asked to perform the same task, but from tables an equal distance apart as the first group’s tables, but in the same room.
“The difference in the two groups’ performances was big enough to drive a truck through,” says Radvansky, even though the tasks were simple and almost exact. The results held true no matter whether the participants navigated either real-world or virtual-world settings. Seemingly, doorways put up some kind of mental block that prohibited our ability to retrieve memories formed somewhere else.
It is that simple? That somehow doorways and thresholds are memory blocks, or it is the change of environment that was different?
Radvansky then had the volunteers pass through several different rooms that lead back to the room in which they started. In this experiment the same results held true — the subjects failed as well. “When they went through multiple doorways, the error rate increased,” he said. This concludes that the act of passing through doorways, not just being in a different environment, causes memory lapses, he said.
What explains this? According to Radvansky, “When we are moving through the world, it is very continuous and dynamic and to deal with it more effectively, we parse things up.”
Neuroscientists are just beginning to put together how the brain performs the mapping of the brain activity across event boundaries. “There are a lot of [brain] areas that light up at different kinds of event boundaries,” Radvansky says. He explained that mental barriers are useful in order for us to organize our thoughts and memories, but become more complicated when trying to recall activities or things we intend to do or find. It can be quite annoying.
“I think architects are interested in this research because they want to design spaces that are more effective,” Radvansky said. “For example, they might need to consider where you need doorways and where you don’t.”
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion
Life’s Little Secrets – Forget Why You Walked in a Room? Doorways to Blame, Study Finds: http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/1939-walking-doorways-forgetting.html