Has this ever happened to you? What about this next one:
Me: I just have to grab a stapler from the next room real quick
-walks into the next room-
Also me: Wait, what did I come in here for?
What follows after is a string of emotions – annoyance, helplessness, bafflement, and upon returning to your original location, if you’re lucky, remembrance.
There is a name for this phenomenon – the doorway effect. In fact there are terms for other similar encounters – such as when you cannot recall a specific word you want to use. You may blurt out synonyms of it, you can most definitely explain what it means, but in the moment you are merely a thesaurus without the word in the search bar. This is known as tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.
We’ve all experienced them, but what causes these peculiar episodes?
#1 The Doorway Effect
What? When you walk into another room and forget what you wanted to do there.
Why? Using an event model or location-updating effect, our brain compartmentalises events by tying the memory to the room. To illustrate this, imagine an opened folder on your desktop is the room you are in. As you move to another room, the folder is minimized. Upon entering the door, a separate folder with different documents opens and displays on your screen. This is parallel to your mind processing that you are in a new environment, hence tucking away the events of the old room and focusing on the present.
What you can do about it? Simple – don’t walk through doors.
#2 Normal Memory Lapses
What? Forgetting your keys, what you had for lunch yesterday, your friend’s birthday, the name of the movie you caught last week.
Why? Have you been stressed lately? Are you sleep deprived? Just started a new medication? Been doing lots of multitasking? Or maybe you’re just plain absent-minded. These are all possible reasons for non-specific episodes of forgetfulness, unless you forgot your significant other’s birthday and he/she is big on occasions, then you’re in serious trouble.
What you can do about it? Tie strings around your finger and post-its – but don’t overdo it.
#3 Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) phenomenon
What? Having difficulty recollecting a specific word, name or phrase whilst holding the meaning of it one’s mind.
Why? TOT occurs when the intermediate stage of lexical retrieval (search for a word in one’s memory storage) experiences a breakdown, hence the process of translating thoughts into words is interrupted.
What you can do about it? Engage in a synonym battle with your friend (but really just using him/her as a thesaurus until you stumble upon the word in question).
#4 Semantic Satiation
What? When a word temporarily loses its meaning due to constant repetition. Try it for yourself, choose a word, any word. Either 1) repeat it over and over again, or 2) stare at it for a prolonged period of time. After a while, you find that the word becomes foreign and may seem gibberish.
Why? Coined reactive inhibition, this phenomenon occurs when the brain is slowly unable to recognise the meaning of the word due its use in rapid succession. This might be due to more energy being needed for brain cells to fire during repetition, hence the brain resists eliciting the word.
What you can do about it? Stop staring at and repeating words, duh.
Now that you know what these phenomenons are called… Sigh, who are we kidding, you’ll probably forget what they’re called anyway. Oh, and in case we forgot to mention, today is ‘I Forgot Day’.
By Violet Koh