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Memory Lapses or the “I Know I Came In Here for Something” Syndrome

Walking through doorways causes forgetting

We have many names for it – “Senior Moments”, “Mommy Brain” – but it is something we all do. We walk into a room and forget why we came in. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame have come up with one reason why, and how we can prevent it from happening quite as often.

Psychology professor Gabriel Radvansky PhD and colleagues conducted three experiments in both real and virtual environments. All subjects were college students who performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway.

In the first experiment, the subjects moved from one room to another in a virtual environment, selecting an object on a table and exchanging it for another on a different table. Then they performed the same task within the same virtual room, not crossing through a doorway. The students more often forgot after walking into a different room compared with “walking” the same distance across a single room.

The second experiment was conducted within a real-world environment and subjects were to conceal objects inside a box and either move across a room or travel the same distance through a doorway into another room. Again, those who walked through the door had a diminished memory of the object.

More on EmaxHealth.com: Frequency of Senior Moments Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

The third and final experiment was designed to test the theory that entering or exiting a doorway serves as an “event boundary” in the mind, compartmentalizing the decision or activity that was made in a different room. The students passed through several doorways, leading back to the room in which they started. However, there was no improvement in remembering the activity – passing through the doorways still appeared to impair memory.

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Dr. Radvansky has actually published research on the phenomenon previously in the journal “Memory and Cognition.” In the introduction, he notes that people often forgot items when they are dissociated – meaning, left in another room. We remember things better when we are in the same social context as when we learned it.

More on EmaxHealth.com: Probing Question: Why Do We Forget?

The authors refer to this as “the location-updating effect,” a decline in memory due to the shift in context or “spatial shift”. It takes a lot of effort for your brain to update your understanding of what is going on around you, says Dr. Radvansky, so some things get lost in the shuffle. “When you go from room to room, your brain identifies each room as a new event and sets a new memory trace to capture the new event,” he says.

One way to combat this memory lapse is to physically carry a reminder into another room of what your intent is. For example, if you go into the kitchen for a snack, carry in a bowl or form your hands into a bowl shape to help you remember. Or sing a related song, Like the “I’m Hungry Song” or “Apples and Bananas.” Now there are two songs you won’t soon forget!

Source References:
The University of Notre Dame
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Additional Sources:
Radvansky GA, Tamplin AK, Krawietz SA. “Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Environmental integration” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2010, Volume 17, Number 6, 900-904
Radvansky GA, Copeland DE “Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Situation models and experienced space”, Memory & Cognition 2006, 24 (5), 1150-1156

Image Credit: Morguefile.com