2011.12.07 The doorway to my forgetful mind

Written by David Green.


I was going to write about this a few weeks ago, but I forgot.

And then I saw a post on Facebook from Grace Tarala Johnston and I remembered I was going to write about forgetting.

Grace, you might remember, is married to Jeff Johnston who used to write for the Observer back in the early 90s. He moved on to the Benton Harbor paper before settling in at the Flint Journal. I forget what he’s doing now.

All that is neither here nor there, but I figure if you remember Grace and Jeff you might wonder what they are up to. They’re in Flushing now and are the parents of four beautiful young daughters whom Grace was probably referring to when she posted this:

“I hid those gifts so well I can't find them!”

“Hate when that happens,” commented a friend.

 “I do that every year,” said another.

I burst out laughing when I read the next comment.

“I do this too and it amazes me. One year we were sitting down to Easter dinner and my mom suddenly jumped up and remembered where she hid some pink knee high socks for my sister and I the previous Christmas. LOL It was too funny and we still laugh about this.”

Grace commiserated with her friend who then commented, “I just get wackier. I am going for the dotty old lady. I embrace it.”

I’m not really ready to embrace my dottiness, especially if people think of it as  “mentally unbalanced” rather than “amiably eccentric.” I’m much more inclined to want to conquer it, especially now that I know what causes me to forget why I’m standing in front of the computer with no idea what I was about to look up before walking into the room. 

My daughter Rosie broke the news a few weeks ago. She told me when you walk through a doorway it makes you forget things. She read about it online. It’s all over the internet. Here’s a report from the Huffington Post:

You know when you walk into a room to do something and suddenly forget why you're there? It's not just you, recent research says the physical act of going through that doorway could be linked to forgetting things.

"Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an 'event boundary' in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away," study researcher Gabriel Radvansky, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame, said... "Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized."

During the study, researchers used three experiments, including one that tested out students' recall when moving between tables in the same room. They found that less was forgotten between tables than when the students went from room to room. Results were published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

“Sounds very plausible,” said one reader about the Huffington Post story. “Works too when opening the refrigerator door. Now I know why I stand there looking. (It was for the pie I had forgotten I had finished off yesterday).” 

I noticed comments on several sites about how opening a refrigerator door has the same effect on memory as walking through a doorway.

“...that's why I forget what is in the refrigerator,” said one commenter.

“I'm not sure,” countered another. ‘Hoping something new miraculously appears’ vs. ‘forgetting what's in there"‘are two different things. Right?”

I am not remembering to go to bed early, something I remind myself to do daily, but after reading this article, I have been stopping myself before going through a doorway and repeating what it is I need to remember. 

“Sheets and extension cord. Sheets and extension cord. Sheets and extension cord.” Over and over I say it so I won’t forget as I head to the annex basement through two doorways from the library.

The Huffington Post article had better advice to avoid that problem:

So, if you never want to forget anything, just don't leave the room you're in right now, and you will be just fine.

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