"Memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else's version more than his own."As a busy mommy, who needs to shuffle between loads of work, I tend to forget even the simplest of things. There are days when I would go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and as soon as I enter the kitchen, I simply stand there and wonder why I went there in the first place. In fact, the scenario might sound quite familiar to a number of people. So, are we all getting old, suffering from mommy forgetfulness, or losing our mind? Well, there is actually a scientific explanation for this sudden and momentary memory lapse, and it is known as the "doorway effect" or "doorway amnesia."
― Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
― Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
According to the memory researchers who have studied this effect, the physical act of passing through a doorway causes us to forget things. This is because when we pass into another spatial reality, our brain needs time to adjust to the surroundings and recalibrate the thinking process. This causes a temporary lapse of memory. The "doorway effect" is apparently quite normal, and not a sign of any dementia or senility.
Research about the Doorway EffectThe doorway effect was tested by Gabriel Radvansky, Sabine Krawietz, and Andrea Tamplin from the University of Notre Dame in Indianapolis, USA. The purpose of this experiment was to test the memory loss based on the event-horizon model. This model states that the parsing or transition of one event to another can affect the memory. A component of this model also states that the events are separate, and the human brain processes the events one at a time. So, if you are concentrating on something, the rest of the events are pushed back into the memory.
To test the effect, an experiment was conducted, wherein people were provided objects to remember. These objects were in a combination of different colors and shapes, such as a yellow cone or red cube. The experiment was conducted virtually. During the computer game, the participants needed to pick up one item from the random objects placed on a table, and place it on another table. Once they picked an item, it would automatically be placed in a virtual backpack so that the participant could not see it.
During the experiments, the participants virtually moved objects from a table at one side of a room to a table at the other side of the room, and also from one room to another room whilst crossing a doorway.
Researchers found that when the participants moved from one room to another through the doorway, their memory was worse than when they moved in the same room. The researchers also conducted the same experiment in real rooms and found the result to be more or less the same. It was also found that when participants walked back to the room where they picked the objects, their recall did not improve. It was, thus, inferred that mismatching contexts which happened when we enter a new space was not the reason for the doorway effect.
The Reason for the Doorway EffectMemory Retains Ready-at-hand Information Only
There is more to memory than just paying attention and trying hard to memorize things. Researchers seem to have found an important piece of information about memory during their experiments. Our memory seems designed to retain certain information which is ready-at-hand, and as soon as the brain feels that this information is no longer required, the memory purges the information for some new stuff. The surprising thing is that this applies not just to the real-world environment, but also virtual environment.
Possibility of Survival Advantage
The researchers believe that this temporary memory lapse could be a remnant of the survival mechanism. Way back as hunters and cave dwellers, leaving a safe environment for a new, unknown environment was considered dangerous. So, our instincts told us to forget the old environment in favor of the new one so that we remain alert and cautious. Look at it this way―would you not want to forget all about your nice, warm cave when you enter the dangerous T-Rex zone? In this case, the doorway acts as a prompt to enable the brain to remember new things and focus on it, rather than thinking about the thoughts or decisions made in a different room.
What can we do to avoid forgetting things? Well, we can't really stop walking through doorways. All you can do is make a conscious effort to repeat the information as you head to another room. Also, it is fun to ponder the design implications of this kind of scientific finding. For example, what would happen if there is no actual door, or the rooms have the same design, objects, and wall color? Would the doorway effect still be there? Till further research is done, we can just keep wondering and hoping that we can remember what we want to, when passing through a doorway.