Memory and ‘The Doorway Effect’

Published 8:13 am Thursday, January 18, 2018

Question: I keep finding myself walking into a room and then wondering what I came in there for. What’s going on? Am I coming down with early-onset dementia?
Answer: It’s not just you, and you’re not losing your marbles. The real problem is that pesky doorway. Really. It’s called The Doorway Effect, and it’s actually a sign that your brain is working well.
Our brains compartmentalize events and tie them to the environment, or room, in which they occurred. Our brains see doorways as a cut-off point. By moving from one room to the next, the brain effectively creates a file containing all the information about the first room, and what you did there, and tucks it away. It then starts to focus on the second room. As we take in our new surroundings, our focus shifts and so our memory is compromised — as we can’t concentrate properly on so many things at once. Thus, remembering what you intended to do upon leaving the first room is a lot harder than if you had simply crossed from one side of the room to the other.
We all have moments in the day where we mentally lose it. We misplace our keys. We lose a vital phone number. We forget a familiar person’s name. In many cases we freak out, beat ourselves up, and fear that we are losing it.
Don’t worry… here are some tips to help you jog your memory.
1) Relax — Instead of freaking out and beating yourself up (and we’re oh so good at that), sit back, take some deep breaths and relax. Relaxing improves blood flow to the brain and gets those synapses working again. It’s happened to all of us… we get halfway to work, we finally relax, and we have our epiphany… “It’s on the night stand!”
2) Relive all experiences that connect with the item — Most of us do an excellent job of reliving what we did with the item previously to losing it. What is really happening is that we’re using sequencing, which is a powerful memory tool, to help in the recall process. Sometimes you have to go deeper and relive earlier experiences with the item to effectively jog your memory.
3) Take the focus off of the item and focus on associations related to the item — Sometimes we get so hyper focused on finding or remembering something, our brain begins to constrict and work against us. Instead try focusing on associations related to that item to prime your mental engine and get it moving again.
So, the next time you misplace the remote control, your car keys or anything else, use these three simple steps. You will find what you’re looking for faster and you’ll still have your sanity to boot.
Vickie Clark is the Director of the Carter County UT Extension Office and also serves as the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent. If you have questions or need any information related to Family and Consumer Science contact her at the UT Extension Carter County, 824 East Elk Ave., Elizabethton, call 542-1818 or email at

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