How a Doorway Makes You Forget

Some surprising research into forgetfulness

In a series of simple but elegant experiments, researchers at the University of Notre Dame have proven that the act of passing through a doorway causes forgetfulness—thus making a lot of middle-aged people feel better about the fact that they can’t remember once they reach the living room what they left the kitchen looking for. (Keys? Glasses? Remote control?)

In a virtual experiment, subjects performed the same action—choosing an object from a table and exchanging it for one on another table—while simply moving across space, and while moving through space and also passing through a doorway. A second, similar study was real-world, rather than virtual; in the third, subjects passed through a series of doorways. All led to the same comclusion: Passing beneath a doorway somehow causes us to forget what happened in a previous room.

Psychology professor Gabriel Radvansky, who conducted the studies, theorizes that doorways serve as “event boundaries” in the mind, allowing it to compartmentalize what it’s observed in one room and file it away as it moves to the next. It’s hard for the mind to retrieve that information because it’s been put in its own mental drawer. Results were published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.