60-Second Science

Doorway to Blame for Room Amnesia

Ever walk into the kitchen and forgot why you went there? Of course you have. Good news: it's the doorway's fault. Sophie Bushwick reports

You walk into the kitchen to grab a—wait, why did you come in here again?

A new study suggests that your brain is not to blame for your confusion about what you’re doing in a new room—the doorway is. The work is in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. [Gabriel A. Radvansky, Sabine A. Krawietz, and Andrea K. Tamplin, "Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Further explorations"]

University of Notre Dame researchers had subjects perform memory tasks, such as remembering the colors of blocks in different boxes. The volunteers had to do the task after walking across a room, or after walking the same distance through a doorway into a second room. And they did much worse after going through the doorway. And you can’t blame the new room: their memories still deteriorated if after passing through a series of doorways they wound up back in the original room.

The researchers say that when you pass through a doorway, your mind compartmentalizes your actions into separate episodes. Having moved into a new episode, the brain archives the previous one, making it less available for access. It’s as if you slam a mental door between what you knew and…what was I saying?

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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