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Does walking through a doorway really make you forget?: Scientists explain why there is a “doorway effect”

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Manish Saini
Manish works as a Journalist and writer at Revyuh.com. He has studied Political Science and graduated from Delhi University. He is a Political engineer, fascinated by politics, and traditional businesses. He is also attached to many NGO's in the country and helping poor children to get the basic education. Email: Manish (at) revyuh (dot) com

Imagine watching your favorite movie and you decide to go to the kitchen for a meal. But when you come to the kitchen, you suddenly stop and ask yourself: “Why am I here?” Such lapses in memory may seem random. But the researchers cite the “doorway effect” as the culprit.

Rooms represent the boundary between one context, such as the living room, and another, the kitchen. If memory is overloaded, the border “flushes out” the last tasks – and the person forgets why he or she came to a new place.

A group of Australian scientists decided to take a closer look at this effect. They selected 29 volunteers, put on VR headsets, and asked them to move from room to room in a virtual environment. During the experiment, the participants had to memorize objects: a yellow cross, a blue cone, and so on, lying on the “tables”. Sometimes the objects were in the same room, and sometimes the subjects had to move from room to room in order to find everything.

It turned out that the doorways did not interfere with the respondents in any way. They were equally successful at memorizing figures, regardless of whether they were in the same room or in different ones.

Then the scientists repeated the experiment. This time, they selected 45 participants and asked them to complete the task on the account simultaneously with the search for objects. And the “doorway effect” worked. Volunteers miscalculated or forgot items as they moved from room to room. The researchers concluded that the second task overloaded memory and caused “gaps” in it when people crossed the doorway.

In the third experiment, 26 participants were already watching the first-person video. The operator moved through the corridors of the university, and the respondents had to memorize photographs of butterflies on the walls. In the fourth experiment, they walked this route on their own. The researchers noticed that in these cases, the “doorway effect” was again absent. That is, when a person has no additional tasks, border crossing does not play any role.

The results of the work, published in the journal BMC Psychology, showed that the more multitasking a person is, the more likely the “doorway effect” will work. This is because we can only hold a certain amount of information in our minds. And working memory gets overwhelmed when we are distracted by something new.

According to scientists, a person is able to forget some tasks not only in the “doorway”. The brain segments events all the time (this way it processes information better), and the effect manifests itself in different conditions. And to avoid it, you need to control the number of tasks we are busy with and focus on things.

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