You go into another room and forget what you came there for. Does this sound familiar?
Scientists have created a clever and very logical theory to explain this distraction. It turns out that doorways are to blame for our forgetfulness. Our brain perceives them not only as the boundary of space, but also as a signal to “reset” the memory.
Such a conclusion was made by a group of scientists from the University of Notre Dame (USA, Indiana). Passing through the doorway is registered by the brain as a “boundary event”.
It was discovered during a series of experiments. The researchers asked the participants to walk through the rooms, and perform simple tasks, while the scientists watched how the memory works.
Participants from the first group were asked to select an object on the table and replace it with another on sitting on a table in the next room.
The second control group was asked to perform the same task, but in that case, both tables were in the same room (the distance between them was the same as in the first group). Surprisingly, but people moving from room to room were two to three times more likely to forget why they came there.
Moreover, the same result was produced by an experiment conducted virtually. This allowed the researchers to suggest that the doorways act as a psychological boundary that “resets” our memories. The critical point is crossing the threshold rather than a change of environment.
To test this, volunteers were asked to go through several doorways and complete their path in the same room where it began. Despite the return to the original environment, the participants of the experiment forgot their task more often.
Perhaps the ability to forget is treated more unfairly than any other mind ability. Everyone at least once in a lifetime dreamed of an absolute memory.
We are consoling ourselves with an illusion that it would allow us to memorize all the information needed, study and work much more effectively, get rid of the need to repeat, memorize and write down any information.
It seems that having an absolute memory could be almost superhuman. Alas, the reality is much more complicated. Those few people who, because of some peculiarities of the brain, are unable to forget are deeply unhappy.
One of the owners of such an absolute memory was a Soviet reporter and later, a mnemonic, Solomon Shereshevsky. He became a subject of numerous scientific studies when in his adulthood Shereshevsky’s friends and colleagues have found that his memory was not just great – it was absolute.
Nearly 30 years since 1926, Shereshevsky was a subject of scientific observations. Psychologist and scientist Alexander Luria studied the peculiarities of the psyche of this amazing man. According to the materials of his research and conversations with Shereshevsky, Luria wrote a book called “a little book about a great memory.”
“He seemed somewhat slow, sometimes even a timid man who was puzzled by the request received. (…) He did not see anything special about himself and had no idea that his memory was something different from the memory of others,” Luria described their first acquaintance.
A few years later Shereshevsky left his career as a reporter, becoming a professional-mnemonist who demonstrated his unique gift to the public.
Unfortunately, the rest of his life was not brilliant. As stated by Luria, the memory of this man literally swallowed his personality. “Many of us think: how to find ways to better remember. Nobody is working on the question: how best to forget? With Shereshevskiy it was the opposite. Learning to forget – that’s the question that worried him the most,” wrote Luria.
Interestingly, the scientist also described Shereshevsky as a man without any specific goal in life: “… he entered the School of Music, wanted to become a violinist, but after a disease his hearing has declined, and he saw that he would hardly be able to successfully prepare for a career of a musician.
For some time he was looking for things to do, and by accident he started working for a newspaper as a reporter. He did not have a clear line of life, his plans were rather vague. ”
Perhaps, a child capable of remembering everything from the first time would have no incentive to develop an active interest in anything. It is also possible that the huge memory of Shereshevsky just absorbed all the resources of his mind, making him apathetic.
If you really imagine what it would be not to be able to forget anything: pain, the most unpleasant moments of your life, unnecessary information, bad books and movies – you would want to thank our ability to erase some of the past from memory.
Doorways are not the only factors that help us forget. Competing information – if we get new “additions or corrections” to the information about a previously familiar phenomenon or object, then the more recent data is stored in the memory.
Non-use of information – something that is not “updated” and is not used regularly becomes increasingly more difficult to remember. The information may not disappear completely, but without training the neural paths disappear, and the memory becomes difficult to extract. But if someone brings up an episode forgotten by you, in some cases, you may suddenly remember it.
If you are looking at some work materials and get interrupted by a colleague who tells you something interesting, it is likely that the story of your colleagues will be remembered better than the work data. This is not laziness, but interference – a phenomenon when the process of storing information in memory is invaded by another one, also significant to you. Recalling the earlier information is more difficult.