The Doorway Effect!

“I take my forgetfulness in a positive stride because I also forget the problems.”

Have you ever entered a room and found yourself wondering “What am I doing here?”

You look around; try knocking the doors of your brain but you can’t recall what you are looking for. We all have probably had this annoying experience in some way or the other. Psychologists and scientists term this as the “Doorway effect” and it is more common than you think! It, in simple words, refers to how we sort or compartmentalize things inside our brain. There are lots of interesting studies and research which try to explain this weird phenomenon.


Recent studies have established that Human memory is far more complex and sophisticated than it was thought to be few decades back. Human memory is believed to be episodic in nature and doesn’t follow clear linear narratives. Findings show that changes in physical features of the environment can trigger a new memory episode! This means that when we cross a door and enter a new room ,i.e., a different environment, our brain signals to our memory that we are in a new space. The older memory episode is deleted to create space for the new one. This gives rise to another term called “Location Updating Effect”.


In one of the studies conducted by scientists of University of Notre Dame, the participants were allowed to navigate in a Virtual Reality environment consisting of 55 rooms with one or more tables using computer keys. They had the task of picking up an object from one table and place it on another from where they were supposed to pick up another object. The catch was that as soon as an object was picked, it became invisible. Quite surprisingly, the memory performance dropped once a person crossed a doorway to another room compared to when someone covered the same distance in the same room. To understand the results, another study was conducted but this time, it was with real room in a real world environment. Guess what? Similar observations were made even then. People had a hard time recalling the previous object once they passed through a door! The scientists came up with the concept of event models and believe that changing rooms can cause these event models to be purged as the events of the previous room are likely less relevant when one changes rooms.

Now, even after all these, there is no concrete explanation for this phenomenon. There are of course studies and hypotheses trying to explain this in the best possible manner. The doorway effect certainly tells us that there is more to human memory than we think!

So, the next time you enter a room and suddenly forget why you’re there, remember it’s just the doorway effect making fun of you!

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche


Photos : Google, Cactus Hugs, Science ABC.

By Raibat Sarker,
Department of Chemistry,
IISER Bhopal.

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Author: Raibat Sarker

A BS-MS (Chemistry) student and a KVPY fellow at IISER Bhopal who founded The Qrius Rhino in March 2018.. He was associated with the IISER Bhopal iGEM 2020 team which went on to win the gold medal in the jamboree. He is passionate about trekking and camping, apart from being a foodie and die-hard FCB fan. When not sciencing, eating, or complaining about his bad luck, you will find him hooked into novels or planning his next trek!

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