by: Amy Simmons
Picture this: You’re sitting in the living room of your home when you remember a task that needs tending to in the kitchen. But when you cross the threshold from one room to the next, you can no longer remember what you needed to do.
It’s a common phenomenon, one that a team of researchers—led by the University of Notre Dame’s Gabriel Radvansky—studied at length. They called it the “Location Updating Effect,” though you may know it as the Doorway Effect.
What happens during these moments?
Radvansky posited that since memories are frequently stored as discrete episodes, leaving the room may signal the end of that episode, thus paving the way for new memories to form.
Others think the explanation may lie in evolution. In our cave-dwelling days, predators typically lurked at the edge of clearings. Early humans certainly could have adapted to zone in on their surroundings when crossing these thresholds. As such, the Doorway Effect could have acted as a focus reset button of sorts, directing attention away from internal musings and on to external reality.
Regardless, the Doorway Effect remains part of our consciousness, and thresholds of all forms present us with the opportunity to refocus and harness the potential of liminal space—or periods of discontinuity that create an openness to change.
Further, because liminal opportunities arise frequently over the course of our lives, at any point in time you are almost guaranteed to be in one of them, or closely related to someone who is in one.
In fact, as we continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all in a prolonged period of liminal space at the moment—and have been since February or March 2020.
With that said, while liminal space is all around us, it’s not always available in equal measure. It’s important to recognize that and avoid going down the rabbit hole of believing that everything is liminal space, as constantly creating—or responding to—disruption will only hinder your progress.
Instead, it’s about knowing when to lean in to curate disruption or respond effectively to it that makes all the difference.
Our book, Unleashed: Harnessing the Power of Liminal Space, forthcoming from ForbesBooks in April 2021, lays out what we’ve learned about the transformative power of consciously wading into the unknown for individuals, teams, and organizations—and the tools to access those benefits.
G. Radvansky, A.K. Tamplin, and S.A. Kraweitz, “Walking Through Doorways Causes Forgetting: Environmental Integration.” Pscychonomic Bulletin and Review, 2010 Dec. 17(6):900-4. doi: 10.3758/PBR.17.6.900.