Why Does Walking Through Doorways Make Us Forget?

Imagine that you're sitting in front of your television, watching reruns of your favorite TV show. A commercial comes on, so you want to change the channel, but the TV remote is nowhere to be found. You shout out to your spouse and are told that the remote is on the kitchen table. You head into the kitchen, but suddenly your phone buzzes. You check out the recent message as you enter the kitchen, but once you’re done, you can’t remember why you went into the kitchen. It’s a classic example of what’s called the "Doorway Effect.” In a set of studies conducted at the University of Notre Dame, participants were asked to play a computer game in which they moved through a virtual building, collecting and carrying objects from room to room. Every so often, a picture of an object popped up on the screen. If the object was either one they were carrying or one they had just put down, they clicked on “Yes.” Sometimes the pictures appeared after the participant had walked into a room; other times they appeared while they were still in the middle of a room. The results revealed that the simple act of walking through a doorway made people forget what they were doing. Within a room, their memories remained mostly intact, but crossing a threshold was like shaking a mental Etch-a-Sketch. The researchers concluded that the brain perceives doorways as a kind of cut-off point and resets the memory to make room for the creation of a new episode. The good news is that experiencing such forgetful episodes after entering a different room says nothing about your memory, intelligence and cognitive skills. So, if you enter a room and suddenly forget why you’re there, don’t start thinking that Alzheimer’s disease is creeping up on you. Your brain just had a reset.