Environmental Boundaries Can Affect Memory
Who has not gotten up to go to a different room, only to forget what you were going to do? Or get. Or find.
A new research study attributes the forgetfulness to walking through doorways.
“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” said University of Notre Dame psychologist Dr. Gabriel Radvansky.
“Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”
The study was published recently in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Radvansky conducted three experiments in both real and virtual environments observing college students as they performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway.
In the first experiment, subjects used a virtual environment and moved from one room to another, selecting an object on a table and exchanging it for an object at a different table. They did the same thing while simply moving across a room but not crossing through a doorway.
Radvansky found that the subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room. This can be explained by suggesting the doorway or “event boundary” hinders an individual’s ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.
The second experiment in a real-world setting required subjects to conceal in boxes the objects chosen from the table and move either across a room or travel the same distance and walk through a doorway. The results in the real-world environment replicated those in the virtual world: Walking through a doorway diminished subjects’ memories.
The final experiment was designed to test whether doorways actually served as event boundaries or if one’s ability to remember is linked to the environment in which a decision – in this case, the selection of an object – was created.
(Previous research has shown that environmental factors affect memory and that information learned in one environment is retrieved better when the retrieval occurs in the same context.)
Accordingly, subjects in this leg of the study passed through several doorways, leading back to the room in which they started.
However, despite going back to the room in which the subject selected the object, memory was not improved.
This finding suggests that the act of passing through a doorway can be part of how the mind files away memories.
Source: University of Notre Dame
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Environmental Boundaries Can Affect Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/11/21/environmental-boundaries-can-affect-memory/31727.html