Earlier this year, memory had been a recurring theme on this blog. My attention and reading has shifted somewhat in recent months, and so it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything on the topic of memory, which nonetheless remains of interest to me.
Today I came across a report about an interesting study on the role that the physical environment plays in shaping our memory. Basically, it seems our memory likes to store itself in episodes and something as mundane as passing through a door may signal the end of one episode and the beginning of a new one, often with the unfortunate consequence of rendering what transpired in the last episode harder to immediately recall.
From the report:
Like information in a book, unfolding events are stored in human memory in successive chapters or episodes. One consequence is that information in the current episode is easier to recall than information in a previous episode. An obvious question then is how the mind divides experience up into these discrete episodes? A new study led by Gabriel Radvansky shows that the simple act of walking through a doorway creates a new memory episode, thereby making it more difficult to recall information pertaining to an experience in the room that’s just been left behind.
These findings show how a physical feature of the environment can trigger a new memory episode. They concur with a study published earlier this year which focused on episode markers in memories for stories. Presented with a passage of narrative text, participants later found it more difficult to remember which sentence followed a target sentence, if the two were separated by an implied temporal boundary, such as “a while later …”. It’s as if information within a temporal episode was somehow bound together, whereas a memory divide was placed between information spanning two episodes.
You can read the whole thing here: “How Walking Through A Door Increases Forgetting.”
This is, of course, one of those studies that seems to confirm what ordinary experience suggested already. Most of us, after all, have passed from one room to another only to forget why we came into the room to begin with. It turns out this may have nothing to do with age as some may suspect, but is rather a by-product of the way our minds organize memory.
It also recalls the insight of the ancient art of memory tradition which was premised on the link between remembering and place.