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Doorway Memory Loss Explained

Ever walk into a room with some purpose in mind, only to forget what it was? It turns out, doors themselves are to blame for these strange memory lapses. Can this contribute to dementia's wandering, confusion and problems with traveling?

Psychologists at the University of Notre Dame have discovered that passing through a doorway triggers what’s known as an event boundary in the mind, separating one set of thoughts and memories from the next.

Your brain files away the thoughts you had in the previous room and prepares a blank slate for the new locale.

Location-Updating Effect

It is referred to as a location-updating effect, and it results in a decline in memory when people move from one location to another.

This may help explain the confusion a person with dementia experiences when they transition from one place to another, as well as when they wander or travel.

Memory & The Event Boundary

Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky led the research project. She explained, “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.”

“Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

Three Experiments

Conducting three experiments in both real and virtual environments, Radvansky’s subjects – all college students – performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway.

In the first experiment, subjects used a virtual environment and moved from one room to another, selecting an object on a table and exchanging it for an object at a different table. They did the same thing while simply moving across a room but not crossing through a doorway.

Radvansky found that the subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room, suggesting that the doorway or “event boundary” impedes one’s ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.

The second experiment in a real-world setting required subjects to conceal in boxes the objects chosen from the table and move either across a room or travel the same distance and walk through a doorway. The results in the real-world environment replicated those in the virtual world: walking through a doorway diminished subjects’ memories.

The final experiment was designed to test whether doorways actually served as event boundaries or if one’s ability to remember is linked to the environment in which a decision – in this case, the selection of an object – was created. Previous research has shown that environmental factors affect memory and that information learned in one environment is retrieved better when the retrieval occurs in the same context. Subjects in this leg of the study passed through several doorways, leading back to the room in which they started. The results showed no improvements in memory, suggesting that the act of passing through a doorway serves as a way the mind files away memories.


Quarterly Journal of Experimental Pyschology


Gabriel A. Radvansky, Sabine A. Krawietz, and Andrea K. Tamplin
Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA

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June 18, 2014 10:49 am


June 18, 2014 7:54 pm

Makes sense.

true grit
true grit
July 14, 2014 9:56 am

When ever i walk to another room to tell my husband something truley great….when i arrive he asks what im here for, i say im thinking of the hereafter! He said, what does that mean?, i say, im trying to think what im here, after!

January 1, 2015 7:16 pm

Does this mean that someone who suffers from this on a regular basis has some form of dementia?
Reply to  Unknown
January 4, 2015 9:58 pm

No. From what the researchers are saying, it can happen to anyone and on a regular basis. It just helps explain why transitioning from place to place often adds to the confusion of a person with dementia.

January 2, 2015 3:03 am

I totally beleave that …. cause when ya get in the other room your mind goes Blank LOL

January 3, 2015 2:07 pm

Interesting information.Never thought of that before.

Camsyn G
Camsyn G
May 13, 2015 1:39 am

Is this a joke?
Reply to  Camsyn G
May 13, 2015 10:44 am

The "MORE INFORMATION" section at the bottom of the article has a clear reference and a link to the original study, just like every research article on this site. It's for real.

Reply to  Camsyn G
August 11, 2015 7:09 am

No its not a joke it's really true

Reply to  Camsyn G
August 11, 2015 7:12 am

I learned this concept a while back and since then the way I deal with it is saying out loud to myself on the way to the next room what I need to ask or tell my husband. Sometimes I write it on a notepad so that if I can't remember when I get there I can come back and look. I know it sounds silly but it works

February 7, 2018 7:10 pm

Makes sense. That's what it feels like is going on.

November 9, 2018 8:00 pm

Very interesting. I'd love learn more about what they prove in this. There's a reason for everything. If this is the case, it would explain why residents with dementia wander the halls, in living homes.

B. Berger

B. Berger

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