Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget: Scientific American

A very interesting story (and novel theory) built on their third experiment. Event updating model says we purge our memories all the time when things are done to give room to new things. Different situation /setting helps trigger the purge. This describes how psychological theory is born

As the title said, walking through doorways caused forgetting: Their responses were both slower and less accurate when they’d walked through a doorway into a new room than when they’d walked the same distance within the same room.

Is it walking through the doorway that causes the forgetting, or is it that remembering is easier in the room in which you originally took in the information?  Psychologists have known for a while that memory works best when the context during testing matches the context during learning; this is an example of what is called the encoding specificity principle.

But the third experiment of the Notre Dame study shows that it’s not just the mismatching context driving the doorway effect.  In this experiment (run in VR), participants sometimes picked up an object, walked through a door, and then walked through a second door that brought them either to a new room or back to the first room.  If matching the context is what counts, then walking back to the old room should boost recall. It did not.

Radvansky and colleagues call this sort of memory representation an “event model,” and propose that walking through a doorway is a good time to purge your event models because whatever happened in the old room is likely to become less relevant now that you have changed venues.

That thing in the box?  Oh, that’s from what I was doing before I got here; we can forget all about that.  Other changes may induce a purge as well:  A friend knocks on the door, you finish the task you were working on, or your computer battery runs down and you have to plug in to recharge.

Why would we have a memory system set up to forget things as soon as we finish one thing and move on to another?  Because we can’t keep everything ready-to-hand, and most of the time the system functions beautifully.

via Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget: Scientific American.

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