In all the years I knew her, my husband’s mother only told one joke in my presence. It went something like this:
A woman’s pastor had come by to visit. They were having a nice chat, perhaps some tea and cookies, and the pastor asked the woman, “So, Annabelle, do you ever think of the hereafter?”
Annabelle answered excitedly, “Why, yes, I do, Pastor! All the time! Just about every time I walk into a room, I have to stop and think, ‘Now what did I come in here after?’”
So that’s funny, partly because it’s recognizable. Who hasn’t had that experience? Often we associate that kind of mental lapse with aging. Or some of us with ADHD in our lives associate it with the short-term/working memory challenges of ADHD.
But new research indicates that our brains may be wired in such a way that a visual cue such as a door threshold is a signal, something the researchers call an “event boundary.” When our brains perceive we’ve crossed such a boundary, the activity that took place before the threshold was crossed (including memory of what I “came in here after”) is filed away, like a scene in a movie, and a new episode of activity, or a new scene, is understood to be starting. So, if I’m in my kitchen and think about something I need from my bedroom upstairs, when I get upstairs and cross the threshold of the bedroom my brain does a bit of a reset (my word, not the researchers!). You can read about this research here.
No wonder we frequently find ourselves standing inside a threshold trying to figure out why we ended up there! Our brains must be busy filing away the memories of the previous spaces we were in. This handy mechanism in our brain does help to organize memories in an efficient way, but it is apparently leading to mental lapses.
I wonder what the result would be if researchers asked those being tested to do this: when you decide to leave the current space to do or retrieve something, but before you move toward that other room, pause. Create a very clear picture in your mind of yourself doing what you need to do in the new room. Reinforce that picture by repeating it in your mind like replaying a video clip. Then move on to the new space. Does that make it more likely that you’ll remember what you intended to do?
That is something I do occasionally and I do find it helps – but would it help everyone? I guess we’ll have to let the researchers figure that out!
If you have ways of remembering what you “came in here after,” please share!