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In one ear and out the …door?

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Collegian File Photo

(Collegian File Photo)

“I just went to the garage to get something, but I couldn’t remember what. I swear, I stood there for like five minutes until I realized I have no idea why I’m there. I really am getting old.”

My mom tells me this after her most recent episode of “Why Am I Here,” a show that I’m sure most of us have been contestants on. But this bout of forgetting is not a symptom of senility as my mom thinks. Instead, she and all of us who forget what they are doing when they walk in a room can blame their momentary amnesia on the door.

Yes, the door. According to research from the University of Notre Dame, “walking through doorways causes forgetting.” Notre Dame psychology professor Gabriel Radvansky and his colleagues performed three sets of experiments, both real and virtual, in order to test how walking through doors may impact memory.

They conducted the first experiment through a video game. In this, there were two types of rooms, one twice the size of the other. In the middle of the larger room, they placed a table with a series of different objects of varying shapes and colors. At the end of a room was an empty table. Participants were asked to walk across the room to the first table, pick up a certain object, then drop it off on the empty table and pick up another one. The smaller room had a similar setup, except the participants would pass through a door before getting to the second table. In both the small and large room, the distance travelled remained constant. The researchers found that those who passed through a doorway more often forgot the object they were carrying.

The second experiment took place in a lab with three rooms. Participants began the test at a table with six objects on it. They were asked to place the objects in a box with a lid, then walk across the room and place it at another table. Then they were given a recognition test where they had to recall the shapes and colors of the objects in the box. Once the recognition test finished, they picked up another box from the table and took it to another station in a different room. Once again, this experiment showed that people forgot more when they moved through doors to different rooms than when they walked across one room.

The third experiment wanted to test whether walking through doors was what caused the forgetting, or if it occurred because of the spatial disparity of different rooms. This experiment also took place in virtual reality. The participants were asked to pick up an object, walk to another room, then to a third room. This third room either returned the participant to the first room, or took them to a new room altogether.

According to the study, “Of most importance here was that there was no improvement by returning to the original context. Thus, we can confidently reject a context-based account of the location-updating effect.”

Doors are one of those things in life that we don’t give a second thought about. They offer us privacy, define spaces for different functions of our lives and serve other varying purposes that we may not acknowledge but nevertheless make our lives a little bit easier.

Yet, this study shows that they impact our memory in such a significant way. It suggests that we hold information in our minds in a way that prioritizes new information that may come along. We may forget what we are doing when we walk out of one room and into another because our brain may think that the old event is no longer relevant. Perhaps evolutionarily, this process of memory helped us survive. For example, if back in our primitive days someone was focused on collecting berries and heard a twig crack or some other strange sound, then it may have been evolutionarily advantageous for us to forget what we were doing and focus our attention on the new event.

Whatever the reason may be, this study reveals that even the most trivial aspects of our lives can significantly impact our daily functioning. If doors affect memory this way, I can’t help but wonder what implications the study may have, if any, on the workplace. How would recollection and memory differ between those who work in open workspace environments from those who work in traditional cubicle structured workplace? What other unexamined parts of my life impact the way I do things?

In any case, perhaps the next time I pass under the threshold of memory, I will be able to hold on to my musings before they escape into the land of forgotten thoughts.

So …what was I doing?

Maral Margossian is the Opinion and Editorial editor and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “In one ear and out the …door?”

  1. Marzbed Margossian on January 21st, 2016 9:20 pm

    Lol mom

    [Reply]

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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