The Doorway Effect And Learning

If you want to remember something then don’t walk through a doorway as you are likely to hit a brick wall and forget.

Walking through a doorway to a new location makes memory for objects and events experienced in the previous location less accurate. This effect is called the location updating effect.

In their studies, Radvansky and Copeland (2006) observed that changing rooms and walking through doors actually make us forget things. He says,

Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.

But why?

This is because what we did in a different room has been segmented and compartmentalised.

What Radvansky and Pettijohn (2016) found was when people transport objects from one location to another, memory is worse than if people move across a large location.

This has implications for schools especially for secondary schools where changing rooms every lesson means students are in and out of different locations all day.

Radvansky’s studies are interesting because they do show us how a change can disrupt memory.

In one study participants used computer buttons to navigate a virtual reality environment depicted on a television screen, consisting of a total of 55 rooms, some large and some small.

On each table there was an item that was no longer visible as soon as it was picked up by the participant. The task of the participants was to pick up an item and take it to another table, where they were to deposit it and select a new one.

It was observed that participants “memory performance was worse when they walked through an open door than when they walked the same distance within the same room, i.e. when they did not walk through a door.

In another study, real rooms were tested and the same observations were recorded, as it was difficult for people to remember the previous object as they walked through a door.

There appears to be a mental blockage when moving rooms and it’s something other research has found too (Lawrence and Peterson, 2016).

Our environment really matters.

What this means for schools is that environmental factors matter and affect memory. Information learned in one environment is retrieved better when the retrieval occurs in the same context.


See this link where Radvansky describes the questions his research and explains his conclusions about the ways forgetting normally works.

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