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Did You Forget Why You Entered A Room? The Doorway Effect Explained

by Kareena Dodeja

Did You Forget Why You Entered A Room? The Doorway Effect Explained

March 24, 2021

Imagine you enter a room to get something but you completely forget about it once you enter the room. You are perplexed why you walked inside the room. Your mind is rattled pondering the reason behind this. This phenomenon has a name; it is called the ‘Doorway effect.’ Most often we question ‘why did I come here' and try to recall what the purpose of entering the room was. If you think you are the only one who experiences this, you are not alone.

How Does The ‘Doorway Effect’ Work?

We have all experienced a situation where we randomly forget why we did a particular task. Researchers have identified these moments as actual doorways. There have been studies that state that memory can be affected by passing through doorways. According to them, the doorways might cause one to forget and this effect was later termed as the ‘Doorway effect.’

Psychologists believe that passing through a doorway to enter another room creates a mental block in the brain. It means that when we walk through the doors, it resets our memory to create room for a new memory.

Scientists in their earlier studies thought our brain was like a cupboard with several sections where we store boxes of experiences from our lives. They assumed that the boxes would last forever and we can retrieve the box of memory anytime. This is far from true. Our brain is complex as it has recently been shown that it can change through a person’s life. Human memories are split into segments and they depend on how we remember them. The way we recall an incident could be far from the way someone else recalls it.

We can understand it better in the context of boundaries. When we move from one room to another, the doorway acts as a boundary between the two rooms. This helps us segment these separate events as boundaries which makes it easier to remember. To understand this better, these event boundaries are important in one situation from might be considered important in another.

Once a new event begins, we begin to forget the information from the previous event as it might not have any relevance. For example, we might crave ice-cream which is connected to the hall where we watch television but the connection is interrupted when we arrive at the kitchen.

Experiments To Prove The Phenomenon

A study was conducted by Gabriel Radvansky and his team at the University of Notre Dame to confirm the theory that walking through doorways can make us forget things. They created a virtual environment that consisted of 55 rooms out of which some were large rooms and some small. The large rooms had two tables at either end and the small rooms had one. The participants had to place the object from one table to another but had to walk through an open doorway. Their memory performance was poor if they covered the same distance of the room and not walked through the doorway.

In the next part of the study, they used a real-life environment as the participants traveled in the real-life distance. The researchers recorded the same observations as the participants found it difficult to recall the object once they passed through the door.

 

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An experiment was conducted by Oliver Baumann, a psychologist at Bond University to figure out whether the phenomenon of the ‘doorway effect’ was rare at home. 29 people wore a virtual reality headset and were asked to move around through different rooms in a 3D virtual surrounding. They were given a task to memorize objects such as a yellow cross or a blue cone on tables in each room and move from one table to the next.

The tables were kept in the same room or sometimes in another; the people had to move through the room through a sliding door. That was quite a thrill. Here comes the surprise element of the experiment, the researchers found that doorways were not effective on memory. People did not forget the objects when they went through a doorway or not. Something was missing, definitely.

The researchers took the experiment up a notch. They repeated the experiment but made it extra difficult. They had 45 people perform a difficult counting task at the same time to understand the phenomenon better. Due to the tedious efforts, they confirmed the doorway effect was real. The research was published in the BMC Psychology Journal.

When the people passed through the doorways, it impaired their memory of the objects. They were under pressure so they mistook a similar object for the one they had initially memorized. The added task of counting had taken a toll on their memory which made them susceptible to the interference caused by the doorway. But isn’t this just like our everyday experience?

There have been different results to different experiments to prove the doorway effect. There is certainly no surprise to how one room might look from the other but it is the change of environment that plays a role in us forgetting the reason we walked in. The rooms are designed to be visually identical so there is no surprise there.

Why Does This Phenomenon Occur?

We can enter a room sometimes forgetting the purpose of coming in and spend the rest of the racking our brain to figure out why. Is there a way to improve our memory when we move around? Results suggest that the more we multitask; our memory will most likely flush out the doorways.

It has been proven that we can hold only so much information at a time and when we are distracted by other thoughts, we tend to forget what is going on in our working memory. It is not limited to doorways. Event segmentation is when our brain engages in different aspects of life whether physical or abstract.

We cannot retain a lot of information as our information capacity is limited. The effective way to segment our lives into events and categorize them could be beneficial. This could help us retrieve information in the present rather than remembering what we have recently experienced. It is believed that when we walk through open doors, it resets our memory to make room for new memories. This experience is also known as the location updating effect.

What could be another way of escaping the doorway effect, you may ask? How about chanting the object with a focused mind? If you wish for some ice-cream, keep thinking and chanting about it, and ta-da, you walk in the kitchen and get some.

 

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