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Brain Burps of the Doorway Variety

by Jenna JG 4 months ago in Science

I can’t be the only one losing my mind... right?

Brain Burps of the Doorway Variety
Photo by Cameron Mosier on Unsplash

Have you ever found yourself gazing mindlessly into the dark abyss of the microwave, plate of cold food still in hand, idly wondering what brought you there in the first place? No? Just me? Okay, never mind. This page is not for you.

Yes?! Okay, great. Read on.

On a similar note, surely at some point, you must have gotten up from the living room sofa and marched with purpose to your bedroom, only to end up staring blankly at your pillow, your nightstand... maybe your lamp... before giving up and returning to the living room (and immediately remembering what it was you were after as soon as you sit back down). You then spend the next several seconds of your life biting your nails, lost in existential crisis mode, wondering how old your parents were when they started forgetting things. Not to worry, though; you get distracted easily, so this crisis is short-lived.

. . .

In 2011, a study was done at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Gabriel Radvansky of the psychology department discovered that walking through doorways does, in fact, affect one's short-term memory. It is extremely common to enter a room and be at a complete loss as to why we entered in the first place, and Professor Radvansky proved that the doorway itself has something to do with this.

Now let me tell you, doorways and I are real tight (even more so since having twins, of course). Door handles, especially, always seem to find my forearms. I'm perfectly aware of the doorway when I walk through it, but I always, without fail, forget about the door handle. Perpetual bruising. I really don't think this is the forgetfulness that Professor Radvansky is referring to, however.

As noted in this article from Scientific American, the Notre Dame study suggests that the timing of our forgetfulness (the one that occurs just after we pass through) is perfectly logical "because whatever happened in the old room is likely to become less relevant now that you have changed venues."

We have to ask ourselves whether it is just the doorway itself, the environment, or both. Just now, in fact, as I switched between this tab where I am writing and that of Scientific American, I forgot what I was doing on the latter the very moment I navigated there. It was a digital doorway, but a "change of venue" nonetheless. I found it necessary to come back here and reorient myself before going back to the other tab again.

The situation with the microwave is the same. Although I have never passed through a microwave doorway per se (and as the wife of a chef, I can say with very prestigious authority indeed that the experts do not recommend doing that under any circumstances), the simple act of leaving the fridge area and entering the microwave area is enough to make me forget.

All right, then. We have established that this phenomenon does, in fact, occur, and often-- but why?

I have some ideas.

Now, I happen to be a little bit obsessed with evolution. If you are not too keen on facts or science, you may want to duck out at this point (but you are certainly so welcome to stay! Please stay! Science loves everyone!).

Long ago, in a much hairier time, our ancestors needed to be ready for anything in order to survive. They didn't just... have houses. They couldn't just... drive away. At any given moment, they had to be able to let go of what was behind them and focus on the danger in front of them. Each new environment had to be scanned immediately for danger. Above all else, survival was key. Distractions were as deadly as the potential danger ahead.

Sometimes, when I'm standing at the microwave, cold plate in hand, in that moment of clarity when I finally remember why I'm there, I clench my jaw and think to myself, "Okay, buddy, bring on the danger. I'm ready."

I think my hairy ancestors would be proud.


Notre Dame

Scientific American

Jenna JG
Jenna JG
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Jenna JG

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