Yesterday afternoon I wandered down to the corner shop to buy myself a pint of milk but as soon as I reached the store, walked through the door I had forgotten why I was really there in the first place. I did some shopping, picked up some bananas, yogurt and a few tomatoes but even though I passed by the milk display it didn’t trigger any memory of need.
After I had paid and left the shop, I strolled back home enjoying the warm sun on my skin and hoping the rays would turn my legs from a cheesy white to a more healthy beige when I passed by a new store selling bits-and-bobs and furniture. On a whim I wandered in and wasn’t really surprised to see not much of interest to me. But in the corner, tucked away behind a lamp and a chair I spied a wooden shelf, a perfect piece to hold a few CDs. Being my daddy’s daughter I haggled 10 euro off the price and with the semi-heavy shelf under my arm I left the store to only remember I still needed milk.
As I retraced my steps and bought the much-needed pint I couldn’t help but think about how odd it was I had forgotten about it in the first place. But then I remembered an article I had read about how walking through doors makes you forget and had to smile, after all I had walked through four doors on my way to the shop, seven if you count the return.
Most of us have experienced standing in a room and trying to figure out why we went in there in the first place, we struggle to remember and mostly we can’t, , but nearly always we ask ourselves: “how could I have forgotten?”
The simple answer would be, we just weren’t really paying attention to what we were doing but the more ‘scientisty’ one is a phenomenon know as the “doorway effect“. Studies have shown that we remember things better if the setting we are in stays the same, this means that as soon as we stand up from our desk and leave the room we just can’t remember that we wanted to make a cup of tea because we changed our environment. The reason behind this is that our brain seems to optimizes certain kinds of memories to keep they “ready”, but then purges these memories when it believes they have expired, to make room for new ones. These kinds of memories are called “event models” and when you walk through a door you are changing venues, making your brain think that what ever happened in the old room is now no longer immediately important and it gets rid of the information. It’s a bit like that stack of papers you keep on your desk, you can’t have everything there as you’d never find the computer otherwise so every now and then you have to file away some stuff to make room for the more urgent paperwork at hand.
Of course it doesn’t have to be a door that signals your brain it can purge the event models, walking up stairs, answering the phone, even finishing the task at hand can make you forget what you were doing or wanted to do next.
So the next time your standing in the kitchen staring into the fridge, don’t worry you don’t have early onset Alzheimer, you just purged your memory on the way there and maybe if you look beside the kettle you’ll see a cup of tea waiting for that drop of milk.