Why Do We Forget What We’re Doing the Minute We Enter a Room?

iStock
iStock

Left your keys on the kitchen counter again? No problem. Just go and get them. Walk through the house, into the kitchen, and—what was it you needed to do again? Why are you in here? In less than 30 seconds, you’ve managed to forget the entire purpose of your errand. But don’t worry. It’s not just you, and you’re not losing your marbles. It’s called the Doorway Effect, and it’s actually a sign that your brain is in fine working order. 

Scientists used to believe that memory was like a filing cabinet. You have an experience, and it gets its own little file in your brain. Then, later, you can go back and open the file, which is unchanged and where it should be. It’s a nice, tidy image—but it’s wrong. Your brain is much more complicated and sophisticated than that. It’s more like a super-high-powered computer, with dozens of tasks and applications running at once.

A 2011 study found that the Doorway Effect is the result of several of these brain programs running simultaneously. Researchers taught 55 college students to play a computer game in which they moved through a virtual building, collecting and carrying objects from room to room. Every so often as the participants traversed the space, a picture of an object popped up on the screen. If the object shown was the one they were carrying or the one they had just put down, the participants clicked “Yes.” Sometimes these pictures appeared after the participant had walked into a room; other times they appeared while the participant was still in the middle of a room. The researchers then built a real-world version of the environment and ran the experiment again, using a box to hide the objects people were carrying so they couldn’t double-check.

The results of both trials were the same: The simple act of walking through a doorway made people forget what they were doing. And it wasn’t a matter of distance, either. The researchers asked the question (“Is this what you’re carrying?”) after people had walked a certain distance within a room, and a certain distance between rooms. Within a room, their memories remained mostly intact. But crossing a threshold was like shaking a mental Etch-a-Sketch.

The researchers concluded that their subjects’ brains perceived doorways as a kind of cut-off point. The memories and movement that carried the students through one context literally hit a wall. On the other side of that wall was new context, and a fresh landscape for memory. The participants’ mental computers were combining the tasks of spatial awareness, movement, and memory. But each task requires attention, and you can’t pay attention to everything at once. 

Is there a way to avoid the Doorway Effect? Probably, although science hasn’t found it yet. If you’ve got a trick that works, let us know in the comments.

New Cross-Bred Cosmic Crisp Apples Can Stay Fresh for Up to a Year

Cosmic Crisp
Cosmic Crisp

Healthy snackers know only too well the disappointment that comes with biting into what looks like a deliciously crisp apple and getting a mouthful of mealy mush instead. It’s just one of the pome fruit’s many potential issues—they also brown quickly, bruise easily, and don’t last as long as whatever bag of chips you might be tempted to reach for instead.

Enter the Cosmic Crisp, a Washington-grown patented hybrid apple that could be the answer to all your apple-related complaints. According to New Atlas, researchers at Washington State University began breeding the new variety as a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples in 1997, and it’s officially hitting stores now.

cosmic crisp apple on tree
Cosmic Crisp

Not only does a Cosmic Crisp apple resist bruising and browning better than other kinds of apples, it also boasts an exceptionally long storage life. In a controlled atmosphere, it should stay fresh for a full year—meaning you’ll soon be able to enjoy a crisp, satisfying snack in the middle of March, when out-of-season apples usually leave much to be desired. In your own refrigerator, Cosmic Crisp apples are good for about six months, and they’ll even last for several weeks if you leave them out at room temperature. The long shelf life might cut down on the number of apples that you end up tossing in the trash because they went bad before you got around to eating them.

In a 2012 report published in the American Society for Horticultural Science journal HortScience, the Washington State University researchers found that a group of 114 consumers rated the Cosmic Crisp apple, or WA 38, higher than Fuji apples in sweetness, sourness, flavor intensity, crispness, firmness, juiciness, and overall acceptance. The apple's website even suggests that bakers can reduce the amount of added sugar in recipes that contain Cosmic Crisps.

The Cosmic part of its name comes from the whitish specks on the apple’s skin, which reminded taste testers of a starry sky. In reality, those specks are lenticels—porous openings that allow the apple to exchange gases with its environment.

If you don’t see Cosmic Crisp apples in your grocery store yet, here’s a simple trick for keeping any apples fresh for longer.

[h/t New Atlas]

The Reason So Many Babies Are Conceived in Winter

yurizhuravov/iStock via Getty Images
yurizhuravov/iStock via Getty Images

Does it feel like many friends and family members announce the pending arrival of a baby during the fall and winter months? That’s not exactly a coincidence. It turns out the cold season is associated with more reproductive activity than any other time of the year. The month of December alone accounts for 9 percent of conceptions in the United States. Science is gaining a better understanding of why.

All living creatures heed an evolutionary instinct to target seasonal births. If conception happens during colder months, babies will be born during warmer months, when resources will be bountiful. Northern states have births peaking in June and July, while southern states come a bit later in October and November. The farther south, the later the birth peak, since people in these warm climates are less influenced by frigid temperatures.

What are frisky humans responding to in colder months? Research suggests that the cooler temperatures and shortened days signal that it's time to get busy. Other theories suggest that men may be more fertile in colder months, or that a woman’s ovum receptivity might change with decreased daylight. Not only are couples potentially more sexually active, but that activity might wind up being more (re)productive.

Are there benefits to conceiving at other times? Possibly. One 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gathered data from nearly 1.5 million births and found that average birth weight in the first five months of the year decreased by 10 grams. Babies born during the summer months were 20 grams heavier. Mothers who conceived in summer tended to gain more weight than those who conceived at other times.

If you have a disproportionate amount of friends with a September birthday, it’s likely that their parents consciously or unconsciously followed their evolutionary instinct nine months earlier.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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