Doorways and Forgetting

Have you ever found yourself standing in a room wondering why you went there in the first place? If so, you’ll be interested to know that new research may have identified the reason. It’s the doorways.

In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Professor Gabriel Radvansky, suggests that when we move from room to room, especially if we going there to perform a task, our memory is “erased”, so to speak, “because our thought becomes compartmentalized”

Experiments were conducted on college students that required them to remember a number of objects that had been placed on a table. In the first experiment, the students moved from one area of the room to another, and then later moved from one room to the next. The distance they moved, and the time between looking at the objects and recalling them was the same. But, the subjects were two to three times as likely to forget what the objects on the table were after walking through a doorway.

The doorways functioned as mental blocks or ‘event boundaries’ as Radvansky calls them, which impede our abilities to retrieve memories formed elsewhere. The Professor theorizes that when we are moving through the world, it is very continuous and dynamic. To deal with it more effectively, we break things up into little chunks. These chunks get overwhelmed when we arrive in a new environment and add a new pile of information to working memory.

This may be a contributing factor to a condition known as “relocation trauma’. This refers to the agitation, disorientation, acting out and even hallucinations that can happen to seniors when they move into a new health care setting like a retirement residence, hospital or hospice.

These settings bring many new doorways for them to cope with and the disorientation and anxiety created by the heightened feeling of forgetting may exhaust their coping skills.

By contrast, home is familiar and usually much more open-concept than institutions which need multiple doorways for privacy and security.

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