Ever get up to retrieve something from another room only to completely forget what you needed after crossing the doorway?

You’re not alone, and scientists think forgetful trips between rooms result from how our brains interpret spatial information.

Researchers already know that walking from one space to another makes people more likely to forget tasks when compared to others who don’t make such a transition. Called “location-updating effect,” the phenomenon also causes people transitioning between rooms (even virtual ones) to take more time while attempting to recall items from memory.

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Moving from one space to another seems to cue the brain to refresh itself and pay attention to the new space, making it harder to recall information from the previous space. By then, the previous experience is already filed away in the brain’s working memory, which is why recalling what you need can seem unnecessarily arduous.

The new research led by Gabriel Radvansky at the University of Notre Dame aims to find out if how a person experiences his environment alters memory the same way. For instance, does a person who’s more immersed in the surrounding environment remember differently?

In three experiments, the group sought to find out. In some setups, college-aged students were immersed in different virtual environments similar to what users would see in the game Half-Life. In others, they participated in normal rooms. After being asked to remember objects they carried while moving between spaces, participants were asked to recall items currently being carried or recently put down.

The team discovered that immersion didn’t really affect reactions, as people seemed to forget in both scenarios. They also looked at whether returning to familiar rooms helped people recall what they recently forgot. It didn’t.

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Another study on the topic showed that participants forgot information from crossing through a doorway — regardless if it was something easier to remember by looking at the surrounding environment.

The authors point out that the location-updating effect may also tie in with humans’ tendency to remember events in segments rather than on a continuum.

The findings also hint that moving between spaces appears to have a greater effect on memory than a person’s immersion or engagement in the room itself.

Photo by dailyinvention/Flickr.com