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The “Doorway Effect” – forgetting why you entered a room (bbc.com)
237 points by edwinksl on June 16, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments

I lived in a one-room (plus bathroom) apartment for half a year. It was an awful experience. The apartment was very well designed with nice furniture and very very centric. But it felt claustrophobic.

I have lived since then in similar apartments, equally small, but with at least 2 rooms (living room and bedroom). It feels so much better.

At first, one-room looks like is going to be better. There is more space as you don't have inner walls. But when you play games, watch tv, cook and sleep all in the same room it feels that there is something wrong.

Getting up in the morning, leaving the bedroom and going to the living room makes a big difference. The context-switching is welcome. It is also easier when going to sleep.

A friend of mine had a generalized anxiety disorder, and for a while she was living in an apartment which had a large living room / kitchen which connected all other rooms. Basically, you entered directly into a large room, some part of which was used for cooking, another for playing games and watching tv, other again for dining and some part was just a transfer zone between the rooms and the lavatory. She reported feeling uneasy when entering her apartment, as the potential for action was too large, and she couldn't concentrate on the one task she had in front of her - the task of arriving at home.

I guess it is connected to the concept of 'affordance' that is used in psychology and UX design. In the view of Gibson it is more about relations to the environment whereas Norman appropriated it to mean the perceived possible actions that are offered by objects, and as such are object properties. In both senses, the affordance of the space was too rich and uneven, and offered too many possible uses for the room.

My feeling is that we are having this problem more and more with generalized soft- and hardware. As browsers and phones offer ever expanding possibilities for action, they become more and more faceless and bland. My hope is that we will embrace limited affordances as a force for good, creating highly opinionated, characteristic and specialized products that offer precise ways of using them.

I lived in this kind of studio apartment for 2 years and didn't have any of the issues you describe. There was a discussion recently about airplanes with no windows and I felt similarly. I just don't really get anxiety about enclosed spaces.

Coincidentally, I work remotely from my home and I think that this contributes to why I like it. A lot of people have trouble working and relaxing in the same space. But I don't have an issue with it.

Not sure what all that adds to the conversation. Maybe I'm the weird one, and this is a normal feeling. But I just wanted to say this is not a universal thing necessarily.

It might yet get worse with age.

Lots of people around the world live in 1 room apartments. Tokyo and HK are full of them. I have friends that grew up in 1 room apartments, parents and all.

There's also that eco movement for tiny multipurpose 1 room housing.

Not saying I don't prefer more rooms but I certainly wouldn't go as far as saying something is wrong with 1 room.

Although I don't think living in 1 room when you're alone (or maybe a couple) in necessarily bad, I can't understand how living with a whole family in a single room can be ok.

I mean, how are you supposed to have sex when your parents / children are in the same room? How can you get a good quality of sleep when other people are awake in the same room or when you are forced to go to bed because other people want to sleep? How can you focus when doing your homework is the room someone is watching TV or playing video games?

I know sometimes you don't have the choice, but I can't see it as something good or even neutral.

> how are you supposed to have sex when your parents / children are in the same room?

Really quietly ;-)

But in all seriousness, for a big family to sleep in the same room/place was the norm for much of humanity's existence.

I agree that I'd find it awkward to be intimate without some privacy, but it doesn't seem to have stopped our ancestors.

I live in a small corner studio in the densest area of Seoul. Everything is close (piano, bed, PS4, kitchen, wardrobe, small table, bathroom), the view is nice and it still feels spacious and relaxed. I don't own too many things and actively try to reduce cleaning surface and remove anything that is even a tiny non-necessary maintenance burden. Keeping the house spotless is super easy. No anxiety due to visual complexity or owning too much. Loving it.

How many square feet is your apartment?

About 25m^2 (270ft^2)

I don't recognize those issues.

The two problems I saw were getting it dark enough to sleep (wasn't hard but was a bit of a chore, automated blinds would have helped) and noise from the refrigerator, but that's pretty much it.

You forgot to mention putting duct tape over all the unbearably bright LEDs designers insist on putting on anything electronic these days.

Now I need to figure out how to stop my refrigerator from sometimes making a whining noise all night...

In the old days LEDs were red which didn’t interfere with night vision or trigger a serotonin response. Now the way they signify a device is advanced is by sticking a bright blue LED on it, I can only assume the designers never have the product in their own homes.

Since the LEDs often serve a useful function you might like LED Dimming stickers. They blunt how bright the LEDs are while leaving them visible.


Rarely do LEDs serve a useful function on devices. My TV has a stupid red led to indicate it is turned off. The idiot that thought that was a good idea should never build any thing again. The other obnoxious feedback mechanism is "beeps". Every damn device has to obnoxiously make a sound every time you do anything.

At least it's red, which doesn't hurt eyes at night. Our cable modem is covered in bright blue leds that look like light sabers at night. I put masking tape over it and a book in front, and there is still some light spill.

It comes from the time where TV and electronic devices could be either completely switched off, or in sleep mode (ie can react to remote control): the red LED made it clear the device was not completely switched off. Nowadays, this is obviously useless as most electronic devices cannot be switched off anymore, yet the tradition remains.

I didn't know these existed. Thank you so much!

Who are the clowns who decided the LED should be illuminated when the device is off?! So that I know where to point the remote? Never had that problem before.

You can vote with your dollars and only buy TVs that let you disable the led, or don’t have one.

I kind of agree. It's hard to give weight to such a trivial, solvable irritant. I just wish it wasn't this way.

If anyone's looking for relevant brands, my Vizio has a single small and dim LED while turned on, and it can be disabled entirely in the options menu.

How could I have forgot that. 4 layers of duct tape and that computer-case LED still went through enough to be annoying, unbelievable.

Try electrical tape next time. Duct tape plastic is usually actually pretty thin. It's just strong because of the fibers.

Two of the USB-C cables I have have an equally annoying LED on the connector to indicate that power is present. Two layers of electrical tape (albeit white electrical tape) and it is still annoying.

Used them primarily when sleeping and when driving and even if faced away they light up way too much. And USB-A to USB-C being hard to find decent cables these were the only ones that was only ridiculously expensive and guaranteed to be correct.

I've re-purposed them now though.

Open up your case and disconnect the power and disk-activity LEDs

Use black nail polish.

To each their own I guess. I for one love studios.

Yea, I doubt that it's universal. Most humans who ever existed probably lived in a one-room house of some type or other.

I had both at university - a single room for two years, then a two-room set for a year - and found they had different strengths. In the single room, I could go to my bed for a break, or to fetch something from over there, without completely losing my focus. In the set, it was nice to have a separate room for sleeping and keeping clothes (so I didn't have to worry about keeping them out of the way - they aren't taking up space in my work area). Ultimately though, I didn't find them to be fundamentally different, other than literally having more space in the two-room set.

Worth noting that I didn't cook in either - there was a separate (shared) kitchen, though most of the time I would be eating in Hall anyway, which may have been a factor.

I lived in basically a one room (there were no walls) but the bed room was a corridor away from the living/kitchen area apartment. I made sure to create seperate zones where I did things, although I would often violate the point of these zones (i.e. work on my couch watching TV, rather than at my desk. I feel as long as you keep the areas mentally separately, even if you can't physically seperate the areas you should be okay.

On the contrary... I feel a much closer connection to my current 1BR apt than I felt to a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 3 story townhouse. It’s small enough that I can remember exactly where I keep shit(Smaller RAM). It’s less space to vacuum so I do that often.

For me, it is "new browser tab" effect these days. I will often be reading a website, then think "Oh, I must research this thing they are talking about" or else I will remember some other thing that I have to do online, so I will open a new browser window in the background.

But then I will get distracted by something else on the current web page - for even a few seconds - and when I go to the new tab to do what I had planned to do, I sit there in complete blank befuddlement, staring at the empty page and wondering what on earth I was supposed to look up.

Especially with the "top sites" or "highlights" feature of contemporary browsers, that in essence show different doors, invite into other worlds as soon as you open a new tab. So instead of going where you wanted to go you get disoriented by all the offerings.

Can't not link to my blog post Open tabs are cognitive spaces [0] that deals with the browser as the place you externalize your cognition to.

[0] https://rybakov.com/blog/open_tabs_are_cognitive_spaces/

I have wanted what you describe, before, at the OS level. Why should groups be limited to just browser tabs? If my task involves some editor windows and some CLI windows and some whatever, why can't I have a virtual desktop grouping it all together?

Basically, a VM per overarching task.

- "This makes a lot of sense" I say to myself, opening your blog link in a background tab.

This is what I do in Firefox: In the current page press Ctrl+k, type the search phrase, press Alt+Enter, to open the search page in a new tab.

Not only me then.. I thought I was just getting old.

How about some reproduction first.

I'm sorry, but we live in an age where decades old famous social sciences experiments are proved to be frauds.

I have stopped giving any credit to the various "scientific study proves X does/is Y in psychology/social sciences/diet". Every day we have a new "eating red cookies in the morning" makes you "less likely to lie" study.

There's a problem that's increasingly relevant here on HN. It's commentors who only read the headline and leave a comment that is irrelevant and inadequate more often than not. I do wish we as a community would respond more to this.

To respond to this particular comment, which hardly deserves a response: this isn't a study, none one of the listed assertions are made. This is a short, free-form article that presents an interpretation or examination of some aspects of our intellect.

I did read the article. And it is based on a scientific study. And it was discussed previously on HN.


Your comment convinced me to actually read the link: you made it sound small enough to read with the time I’ve got now and that it wasn’t going to be hard to understand. Thank you.

At a certain point I realised that I had to update my understanding of the term "prove" to mean "it's now more likely that x the case" rather than "they've found out that x is the case".

Of course, the medium you're reading something in can give you extra reasons to be suspicious. An article about how some diet can give you magic powers is more likely to be there just to draw clicks and hence just based on a study that p-hacked its way into a correlation than an article about a new discovery on the LHC or something.

great point. btw: is there a list of experiments that have become mainstream beliefs and have proven to be wrong?

I definitely know of the power posture and the fertile women wearing red dresses crap.

Stanford Prison Experiment.

Modern science is largely fiction derived based on the results or propaganda piece sought by the funding party.

Would you care to stand-up that ludicrous statement?

Take for example most "scientific" research into anything related to health and nutrition. Most of what we think we know about health, proper food consumption and exercise is science fiction and speaks to the ultimate agenda of the funding or otherwise affiliated organizations behind a particular study or institution under which it takes place.

But you said “modern science”, so I assume you can back up your claims in physics and chemistry as well?

My take on the fake modern science is based on decades of knowledge and experience in various fields, so yes, I can certainly back it up, but I'm not going to spend my afternoon doing this on an HN thread that ultimately gets me flagged and my content gets removed, as has been the case recently.

HN loves nothing more than a contrarian statement backed with substance. If comments have been flagged, it’s usually due to a lack of effort.

The effort is worthwhile.

That has not been my experience. I have often written lengthy comments that simply explained my view on certain topics, and within a few minutes those got flagged which rendered them invisible to others. This place is like Reddit in that regard, when it comes to silencing non mainstream opposing views. I've been here 10 years now, and it's gotten progressively worse in that aspect.

I read through your comment history to try to find some examples.


There’s a recurring pattern: people ask you to back up what you say, and then you respond with “I won’t do that.”

And my comment there stands. It's gotten worse since then, instead of downvotes I simply get flagged and my content disappears. No point.

There's also no point in posting that you wont post because of getting downvoted and flagged, because that post will also get downvoted and flagged.

If you make a controversial claim backed up by sources, you will get negative reactions from people who doubt the validity of those sources. If you make a controversial claim and refuse to provide sources because people would doubt their validity, you'll get negative reactions even from someone who might have agreed with you, because that's just rude.

Save your important points in a blog post or at least a local text file and c+p them where appropriate. I'd be interested in understanding your point if view but as it stands I have nothing to work with.

The contrarian is the one responsible for successfully communicating any legitimate insight they have to the mainstream, however difficult that may be.

One potential strategy might be to slowly ease your way towards your controversial conclusions, building up your argument carefully along the way, in a way that will make sense to your audience.

And yet you still may get downvotes. Such is life.

Lastly, it's very valuable to always be open to the idea that you are the one who is actually mistaken in some critical way.

It seems a bit hand wavvy to say all science (the thing we use to help society come to unbiased conclusions) is a lie because a food company paid a scientist to write a biased paper.

I can see where this is going though.

Hard to change the mind of a person who believes science is used to direct society towards unbiased conclusions. You are putting a lot of faith in many powerful organizations that work tirelessly to control your state of mind and lifestyle habits.

so you don't have knowledge and experience. Good to know.

breakfast most important meal of the day, they say.

The only science you're allowed to be skeptical of (on HN) is science other people are also skeptical of, like (say) astrology. Anything else sees you downvoted and/or shadowbanned into oblivion.

Groupthink is stronk on HN. (Intentional typo, I just like the word "stronk" for some reason. /grin)

Yeah, no. You should bring a bit more substance to your skepticism though than "All scientists are corrupt and serving some powerful interest" (presumably trying to sell one-room flats in this case?). Individual articles are criticized here all the time, especially if they are from the "softer" sciences.

I personally think that people unconsciouslly hated the start menu of Windows 8 because of this phenomenom. You open it and the whole screen changes. Worst possible UI.

That's an interesting observation.

The problem -- if it is one -- is certainly not limited to the Win 8 Start menu. There are plenty of interfaces where pressing a button, or some similar action, pops up a new full-screen or nearly full-screen UI element that looks & works differently from what was there before.

I wonder whether any research has been done on whether this makes any significant number of users forget what they were doing. If not, I think such research would be worthwhile.

MacOS does this, albeit less intrusively, with full screen apps. (Note that "full screen" means no window chrome, which is different from "maximized".)

Normal task switching is near instantaneous, but full screen apps add about 0.3 seconds of animation to their switch. It's enough to break my concentration, so I end up rarely using full screen even though I prefer it for most apps.

I explicitly hated it for that reason - every time it opened I could basically feel the context switch and felt completely thrown off.

As someone who just started using windows for the first time, doesn’t the little search box essentially replace the start menu? How are people expected to find their app—manually clicking through a bunch of menus to one they are looking for? Assuming they have NOT pinned it to the dock at the bottom.

That's the thing, you're new to Windows and thus are learning the optimum way to use the interface as it is now. And yes, just hitting the Windows key and typing is the easiest way to get what you want. But that wasn't always there, and when it was it wasn't the best way. Existing users had grown accustomed to picking what they wanted from a list. It was this disruption in their workflow that upset people.

In Windows 95 and NT 4 it was indeed horrible and there were as many complaints about the original start menu as there was the full-screen one. This was mostly handled starting with Windows 2000 by having the first few icons in the menu be frequently used items. The things you use 90% of the time were no more than two clicks away. (One if you pin it to the task bar.)

Search was added in Vista but was unreliable because the word matching wasn't predictable. Today I was having to use regedit on Windows 7 and the icon wouldn't be shown until I typed the 'd'. Windows 10 improved a lot, though I still am befuddled why it decides to show or not show certain things.

Also, it's further confused by their being two searches. The box you see when you press the Windows key or icon isn't the same as the Cortana bar. Add to that that opening a link to a website from there will always send you to Edge. It's easy to be skeptical about what Microsoft will do with search in the future. How will you feel if in three years they do away with the search box that you've become accustomed to?

Typing something you know is there, is awesome if you know what you are looking for.

The traditional hierarchical tree that showed you what was available, by grouping them into narrower and narrower groups, is awesome if you don't know what you are looking for, as exploring is neigh impossible.

Guessing search terms in wider and wider circles is very unsatisfying.

Thanks, great explanation! Makes sense.

It only shows what it finds, and it only searches what is already indexed. If you want something to show up, you need to include it in the search indexing, run a reindex, and wait for the index to be completed (and potentially reboot). For more info, Google "Windows search index".

Pretty off topic, but here goes nothing:

You can hide the search box and still use that functionality by pressing windows and just typing the term.

Saves space in the dock

Damn, good tip.

Yeah, I've only used the search box since Windows 7 when it was introduced. I find it a lot faster than clicking through the menu. It seems like it's difficult for some people to get the hang of after so many years without that option being available though. I do believe it's on Microsoft for not introducing it well though.

Win+R worked for decades. It is not search, but programs like calc, regedit, notepad, excel went into MRU and autocompleted the next time you type it. Search is a mental stress for me since I have to check if it is 1) completed, 2) which result is mine, 3) tons of Documents/ garbage pops up for too few letters.

And now they killed quick launch bar, so I have to look for a task button and scroll-click on it [inconveniently] to start another window. I’m using 7taskbar+ or something like that to return back to 2000s.

They recently screwed up the task switcher UI. Iff you turn off all the Timeline stuff, half of the UI is long wordy text about turning back on the Timeline. Every time you Win-tab.

This is the same phenomenon as when you open your phone and for a brief moment you don't remember why you did.

With phones its worse because all the pretty icons confuse and beckon you to fall back on opening whatever app you habitually open when bored.

This property of our cognition is why we should better scaffold intentionality into our devices, though that is an difficult design challenge.

Oh I'll open the phone with the intention to do something, do something else because shiny, then realise the moment I lock the phone and put it away.

On particularly bad days, a couple of cycles have been needed...

I fight the 'pretty icons' syndrome by using monochrome / white on black icon theme. It really helps.

I've grayscaled my phone too... but when tired, I can almost physically feel the attraction of icon shapes that my brain links to dopamine rewards. It's awful.

Call it ADHD or what you want, but I tend to experience this a bit more than most people I know. Applying to tech, it's the number one reason Windows 8 didn't work for me. The loss of context when the start screen took over was too disorienting.

I started using a tiling window manager in Linux back around 2012 and I won't ever go back. Overlapping windows were a terrible UI decision. I remember having very early Windows for DOS back on my 286 and remember that those releases didn't have overlapping windows either. Each new running app just split the screen.

Working with a couple coworkers is pretty frustrating because their window management strategy is switching rapidly between active OSX screens with the whole wipe animation too.

This is my setup. Single app/window full screened and sliding between them. I like to focus on one thing at once. Tiling window managers are cognitive overload for me, too much going on at once.

I tried but I die a little each time the swipe animation happens. The Amiga way worked great for me. 1/60s switch time, no animation, fullscreen. Wish MacOS could do away with the animation. Is there a way to config that?

I'm not sure if there's a way to completely remove it, but you can make it use a faster, and different (fade instead of slide), animation.

System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Display -> Reduce Motion

This works, but -- infuriatingly -- also disables the window motion when opening Exposé, which makes that feature more disorienting.

Much better, thanks!

If you simply Alt+Tab away there shouldn't be animation.

That doesn't do anything at all on my Mac...

yeah, it's the swipe animation. I use tmux and instant keyboard shortcuts to swap panes.

Ever since I learnt about this, I have made a practice of saying what I'm doing out loud as I leave one room and enter another one to do the thing I want to do. So I have that moment of "I walked through a door and flushed my brain's to-do cache", but it's quickly remedied by the fact that I loaded up a few words describing what I want to do the instant before I stepped through the door into the longer pipeline of brain-to-mouth.

It helps me, at least.

I'm not sure about this article. For as bad as my memory has always been (and especially bad for being a programmer), I don't have many "why am I in here" moments.

It does happen occasionally, but as someone who is thinking about "work-on-the-fly" wherever I am, I think I'm just accustomed to noodling over work (or other background processes) "in the background".

Since lots of us are engineer-types, are we more apt at that background processing and then when we hit our primary target (in here to look for keys), we're able to shit into primary focus mode?

Now if I'm searching for keys, noodling over some design in the background, and then my wife pops me with a question while I'm lumbering through the house, then I'm in trouble;)

My wife refers to this as "Male refrigerator blindness"

It is also why I prefer the NASA mission control approach to monitor layout

> It is also why I prefer the NASA mission control approach to monitor layout

Could you elaborate?

The place information is does not need to be relearned as it does not move. We then leverage our spatial "lay of the land" skills to reassemble it in novel ways with less effort. A "just so" explanation I like is it is a hold over from being a timid subterranean species. When an individual entered or left the borrow the threat model changed dramatically. Individuals that dumped their short term buffer reacted to escaped quicker (Poor Fred was deciding if the snake back there was worse than hawks and it flew off with him).

On Refrigerator blindness it generally goes like; open the fridge, bask in the possibilities, and after a while my wife who is doing several things at once on the other side of the room states "cream" which brings the pre-fridge reality back into sharp relief.

You don't have to context switch desktops because you have so many displays that everything you need is already visible.

Funny enough I recently wrote about this topic in the context of sticking with 80 characters per line when writing code[0]. There's a section on "Context Switching Sucks". I've always fantasized about having all of the walls in my home office as being monitors.

[0]: https://nickjanetakis.com/blog/80-characters-per-line-is-a-s...

The way I put it to colleagues is that my big monitor is mine, not yours. If you write wide code, then you're taking up space I'd use to tile.

I'm assuming you mean "honey, I can't find X", and she comes in a finds X sitting right in front of you".

I attribute that to myself as, "I don't want to spend more than 15 seconds looking for this thing inside some random thing behind a door"....usually for me, some cabinet or shelf behind the bathroom door where the towels and a myriad of other stuff are.

Also, we're guys and tend to play dumb;)

Pretty sure parent meant that one wants something, opens the fridge, and then immediately forgets what one wanted. Not sure this is specific to males, though. In my experience it's been pretty evenly distributed between the sexes.

It's context switching, I face this daily due to my OCD. The damn doorways are always a problem.

I'm not very well versed on this subject, but have there been any experiments conducted with a doorway in the middle of a basketball court or a field?

I'm sure that would mess me up for a good couple of minutes as well. It's not just doorways that lead to a different room, it's just the fact that there's a doorway present, that changes my context of things.

Maybe I'm the weird one.

I'd watch doorwayball.

I'm picturing basketball with a slightly larger court, a canvas wall suspended down the center strapped down around three doorways evenly spaced from the edges, six players per team on the court, and maybe some round padded platforms centered behind the free-throw lines for extra terrain strategy. There'd be some kind of rule similar to dribbling to prevent standing in doorways; something like, you can only stop or take more than two steps in a doorway zone if you've got the ball.

Gates on large fences might work for this too then. Be a good middle ground for testing. A larger chain link fence with a gate so you can still see both sides

Interestingly I find that doorways _help_ with my OCD - moving to another room helps me move on from my obsessions.

I don't even need a doorway, I can easily forget what I was up to between thinking "need keys" and walking over to where the keys live.

Kind of annoying TBH...

A human 'context switch' seems to be equally expensive as for a computer.

And yet we design open-plan offices around the central theme that people working in a concentration-demanding field should orient their every moment of work around the assumption that not only are context switches costless, but that “collaboration” only happens if everyone is constantly preemptible according to the capricious judgment of managers and other colleagues who are not in a position to even judge the importance of the current task the person being interrupted is working on.

>"[Y]et we design open-plan offices around the central theme [...]"

Surely the theme is control and superiority. You go in the cube farm so that someone can control you and remain superior over you. I doubt people do it because they did time and motion studies and found it more conducive to your particular work?

Sure, but then you are not paid for productivity, and we should speak plainly about this.

Memory evolved (at least in mammals) to tie together places, smells and [proto]emotions.

The connection is still quite present in humans.

There are many examples: going for a walk clears your mind more than being indoors. Smells and flavors reconnect to places & so on...

but at the same time it's significantly less reliable for humans - quite often some or all data from "registers" is lost during the context switch

This happens to me quite often and lately, it has started to creep into my computer usage. I often forget why I opened a new browser tab.

I'm old and now believe in the hereafter. I walk into a room and ask myself, "What am I here after?"

There must be something wrong with me, because I don't recognise myself in this at all. I'm not sure I've ever experienced this.

Marijuana can solve this for you.


Maybe you live under a bridge? ;)

Perhaps you've just forgotten.

Doors trigger our minds loading screens. Memory is loaded from disk. Old context is ejected new is injected. The ego or “i” concept is allotted small attention/memory to carry over stuff. If attention is lost in the middle, the background swap can happen subconscioslu and something you thought you placed nearby can be moved.

I think this effect happens of the many distractions in life.

Whenever I open a new tab it shows a list of the most popular search trends. I forget what I was supposed to search because fomo.

To combat this I have a to do list app where I conveniently list all distractions and forget about them. It's easy too because I know I have that saved for later.

According to The Meaning of Liff, I have always thought of this as "Woking".


If something is troubling my mind I will walk through a door and voila! My brain has found something else to think about.

This thread is a great example of why I love hackernews. It's these curious ones.

I'm pretty sure I've suffered from this from the moment I was born

also an interesting effect with psychedelics

I usually forget why I exited



It's not forgetting where they are, but forget why they are where they are - I've had this happening occasionally in a variety of forms.

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