What is memory? And what do doorways have to do with it?

What is memory?  Why do we remember some things and forget others?  Why do some memories stay with us forever and yet others seem to appear and disappear in an instant?

Come on.  We’ve all done it.  You get up and walk upstairs, downstairs or just in to another room, to get something, find something or do something.

And as you get there you stop….

And stare….

The thought has vanished miraculously, as if it never existed.  As you desperately dig around in your mind, in an effort to remember, it’s like trying to catch smoke.  You know it was there… just beyond reach… well it was there a second ago… but where the heck did it go?

If you’re like me then you may start quietly swearing (particularly if it involves walking from our cellar up to the second floor of our house) and head back to where you started in the hope that something there will remind you what it was you so effectively forgot!

Well I can’t provide a solution, much as I would like to, but new research from University of Notre Dame Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky at least sheds some light on these memory lapses.  It suggests that doorways are to blame!  Doorways?!  Yep, I really did say doorways.

“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” Radvansky explains.  So in essence when you walk through a doorway your brain neatly files away those thoughts like an over-efficient secretary!

As he also says  “Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

And it’s not the distance from where you started to where you’re going that’s to blame.  They checked that too and distance doesn’t have the same effect on your memory as walking through a doorway.

Now as I said at the beginning I tend to go back to where I started in an attempt to remember what I meant to do, find or get.  But it seems even doing that doesn’t help as the brain is just too efficient at filing.  And that over-efficient secretary isn’t too enthusiastic about going back to retrieve whatever it is that you’re looking for.  So you can only hope that there is something in the original environment that gives you a clue!

Now before you all go rushing off to buy a totally open plan house, without any doorways, consider my plight.  I work at home and just a trip to make tea involves walking through three doorways.  What hope do I have of remembering that I’ve actually gone to make tea by the time I get to the kitchen?!  That’s my excuse for getting a biscuit instead and I’m sticking to it!

What tricks do you use to make ensure you remember the most important things at home or at work?

© Jacqui Gatehouse and GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


3 responses to “What is memory? And what do doorways have to do with it?

  1. Sorry??? What??

  2. Pingback: Long Hours, Heart Disease and a Week That Lasted Forever | GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN

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