Picture this: you walk into the bedroom to grab something you really, absolutely must have, but as you pass through the doorway, you’ve immediately forgotten what you came in for. It’s an experience we’ve all shared, but why?
Researchers have discovered that there is a correlation between forgetfulness and passing through doorways, and it's been dubbed the ‘doorway effect’.
What is the doorway effect?
Coined by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, the ‘doorway effect’ occurs when we enter a new environment through a doorway and results in the mind purging any memories linked to the room we just left. So essentially, our thoughts have a shelf-life and walking through a doorway into a new room signifies a good time to hit refresh.
So do doorways really make us forget?
The team at The Conversation tested the matter in two scenarios. Firstly, they had volunteers memorise objects on tables and then move around the room. When one of the tables was located through a doorway, they discovered this had little effect on the memorisation task.
So, they amped up the second round by adding in a new element, a counting task. With the added pressure and need to multitask, the counting task was found to overload people’s memory, making them more likely to forget. But what does this have to do with doorways?
What they discovered was that in our day-to-day experience, when we are distracted by multiple things, the effect of walking through a doorway and into a new environment can overload our senses, causing us to forget. Therefore, it isn’t doorways exactly that make us forget, but the change of environment.
“We can only hold a certain amount of information in mind at a time. When we’re distracted by thoughts about other things, our working memory can more easily become overloaded,” wrote Oliver Baumann and Jessica McFadyen for The Conversation.
How do we prevent the doorway effect?
Considering there’s a limit to how many thoughts we can give attention to at one time, the key to remembering is simply to focus. While it’s easier to blame forces beyond our control, like how math makes our house messier, there might be a way around the doorway effect.
Rather than letting in all new thoughts and getting lost in your senses, hold the task at hand in mind and you’ll avoid falling under the doorway spell.