We have all experienced zone-out moments when we know we totally should remember something that has apparently been deleted from our brain's hard drive against our will. That's because the human brain is a haphazard, messy machine that glitches at the slightest, strangest provocation.
However, our old friend science has tracked down some of the completely random things that decide whether or not your memory will choose to function at that particular moment. Things like ...
5Walking Through Doorways
You're standing in a room, looking around, confused. You came in here to get something, but what? You don't remember. You've completely forgotten why you got up from the sofa in the first place, as if the mere act of walking from the living room into the kitchen wiped your memory.
You try to decide if this is the sign of a cripplingly short attention span or early onset Alzheimer's. But don't worry -- these "What was I looking for?" memory lapses happen to all of us, and science has figured out a very weird reason why. Gabriel Radvansky and his cohorts at the University of Notre Dame performed a series of experiments to determine exactly what causes this weird brain cramp. Turns out it's not memory elves, or even plain old stupidity.
It's corn dogs, isn't it? It's totally corn dogs.
It's doorways. Seriously.
Your brain uses a very similar directory system to that of your computer. Only instead of neat folders labeled "Work," "Documents" and "TOTALLY NOT PORN," your brain tends to compartmentalize by physical location. This means that the information readily accessible to you in one room ("I must get a glass of milk to wash down all this delicious fudge") suddenly becomes a lot harder to access when you go to another one ("Why am I in the kitchen? I know it had something to do with the toaster ..."). The moment you cross a doorway, you're essentially sending a signal to your brain that you're in a new environment now and that nothing that happened in that previous one matters, so just flush it.
Radvansky tested this by having students examine a box containing objects such as red cubes and blue spheres. Then, the students tried to remember what those objects were after either walking into another room or just walking that same distance without crossing any doorways. The results were so dramatic that researchers proceeded to redub doorways "event erasers," a name so badass that it is what we're going to call doorways from now on.
"Son? I'm sorry, but I never had a son."
And the effect of doorways is so strong that you don't even have to physically move for those bastards to put the kibosh on your memory. In another experiment, the researchers had people sit at a computer and do the same test, where the new "room" was just an animation on the screen. The effect was exactly the same -- every time their avatar crossed a virtual doorway, their ability to recall objects fell down the forgetting well.
However, our door-riddled culture is not doomed to a collective Memento disease. Saying things out loud as you pass the doorway can apparently thwart the effect. It stands to reason, really -- even if you managed to forget that you entered the office exclaiming that you need to buy cream for your genital warts, you'd probably be reminded plenty of times.
"Hey there, Jerry! Heard you had a big ol' case of Braille-dick."