We've all walked into a room only to find that the reason for doing so has suddenly and entirely vanished from our mind.
Psychologists have discovered the so-called ‘senior moments’ that can leave us utterly bemused and retracing our steps may actually be caused by the way the brain processes information as the body leaves one room and enters another.
It appears the mind regards a doorway as something experts call an ‘event boundary’, signalling the end of one memory episode and the beginning of another.
Psychologists found the brain tends to file away events and memories from one room as soon as it exits into another, storing information in successive chapters or episodes.
The latest research, published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, shows doorways act as a kind of trigger for the brain to file one chapter and move on to the next one.
A U.S. team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana came up with the findings after an experiment where volunteers used computer keys to navigate their way through 55 ‘virtual’ rooms, large and small.
Each room contained one or two tables, with objects that the volunteers had to pick up, carry to the next room and set down on a table again.
As soon as they picked them up, the objects disappeared.
Throughout the test, they were presented with the name of an object and asked if it was the one they were currently carrying, or the one they had already put down.
The results showed memory performance dipped markedly once they had passed through a doorway, rather than when they covered the same distance but remained in the same room.
To confirm the findings in real life, rather than on a computer, the team set up a similar environment of rooms and tables – hiding the objects in boxes the volunteers carried.
Again, the researchers found participants were more likely to forget what they had in the box once they walked through a door into the next room.
In a report on their findings, researchers said that moving into a new environment probably clutters the brain’s working memory, so that it cannot recall the original reason for entering a room.
The report stated that the extra information ‘overloads and adds more and more information to the working memory’.
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