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Blame the Doorway for Memory Lapses

There are few moments as frustrating as the one when you enter a room and forget why you walked into it in the first place. It turns out, it’s not your fault. Blame the doorway.

University of Notre Dame psychology professor Gabriel Radvansky, in a study published recently in the “Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,” suggests the actual passing through a doorway is the cause of such memory lapses. It might not be -- as you might have assumed -- a senior moment. "Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an 'event boundary' in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away," says Radvansky.

Radvansky conducted experiments in both real and virtual environments. His subjects – all college students – performed memory tasks while crossing a room and then while exiting a doorway.

In one experiment, subjects selected an object on a table and exchanged it for an object at a different table. They then did the same thing while simply moving across a room but not crossing through a doorway.

But Radvansky found his subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway, compared with moving just the same distance across a room. This, he says, suggested that the doorway, the "event boundary," impedes one's ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.

Another experiment required subjects to conceal in boxes some objects chosen from a table, and then to move either across a room or travel the same distance and walk through a doorway. The results replicated those of the first experiment: walking through a doorway diminished subjects' memories.

The take-away? Next time you lose your wallet, try not to walk through a doorway to look for it.

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