We’ve all felt that brain fade moment when you walk into a room with the intent of getting something – only to walk in, stand looking around the room and trying to recall what the objective was, but try as hard as you can, the purpose of entering the room evades you. You’re not growing old, you’re not losing your memory, and your brain-fade moment isn’t as unique as you think. This brain-fade has even had a name put on the phenomenon, calling it the “Doorway Effect”. The effect revealed some important features of how our minds are organised. Understanding this might help us appreciate those temporary moments of forgetfulness and the annoyance that follows.
Sometimes referred to as the “location updating effect,” the phenomenon is seen as were some people passing through a doorway into another room end up forgetting things. The term was coined after a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, who found that people tend to forget things after passing through a doorway because their brain refreshes since memories from the old room were less likely to be relevant in the new room.
While the effect has already been established – the reason behind it has remained unclear…until now. A recent study published in BMC Psychology journal, reports findings that while the doorway effect is real, it only really happens when your brain is working really hard.
The study directly addressed the concept of the “doorway” exploring previous research suggests that such a forgetting effect occurs both at physical boundaries (e.g., moving from one room to another via a door) and metaphysical boundaries (e.g., imagining traversing a doorway, or even when moving from one desktop window to another on a computer). In their study, they aimed to conceptually replicate this effect using virtual and physical environments.
The study was recorded across four experiments, where “participants’ hit and false alarm rates to memory probes for items recently encountered either in the same or previous room were measured. Experiments 1 and 2 also used a highly immersive virtual reality without and with working memory load.”
The researchers found that the doorway effect started occurring. Participants were forgetting things, which pointed researchers to the conclusion that overloading the participants’ memory made them more susceptible to the effect of the doorway. Their results found that “signal detection was impaired when participants responded to probes after moving through doorways, such that false alarm rates were increased for mismatched recognition probes. Thus, under working memory load, memory was more susceptible to interference after moving through doorways.”
So the bottom line? The doorway effect only happens when your mind is overworked – and the only way you can really prevent it is to continuously focus on the single task you are aiming to accomplish by entering the room – and maybe it’ll work. But brains are complex, and you can’t more often than not, control them.