Earlier today I got up from my desk, walked into the kitchen and then couldn’t remember why I had gone there in the first place. You might think I am losing my marbles. But I suspect you may well have done something very similar today. All of us experience the “why on earth did I come in here” syndrome – even young people; it has nothing to do with age. New research suggests there is a reason for this – the humble door. According to psychologists from the University of Notre Dame, our brain interprets the doorway as a marker of leaving one space and entering another. Fair enough. But that also tells our brain that what we have on one side of that barrier stays there. How often have you remembered what you wanted simply by re-tracing your steps? You go back through the door to the other room and then magically remember what you wanted.
Interestingly, the researchers were able to show this phenomenon happened in a virtual environment as well as a real one. When people had to move objects from one side of a large virtual room to the other side their memory was intact. But when they had to take those objects through a virtual doorway, they suffered memory lapses in just the same way as people did when doing the same task in a real world environment. It suggests that doorways, barriers and changing from one distinct place to another causes memory losses.
Online one of the most successful websites is Facebook – yet as you travel around this site it all is pretty much the same, even though you may be in different areas, you don’t feel as though you are. The same is true, for instance, for Wikipedia, or YouTube. Even though these sites offer a wide variety of content, it is all pretty much presented in the same way, without being in separate places.
Now consider the typical business website. There are many separate sections – the blog pages are “different” to the shopping pages, which are different again to the general information pages. Indeed, some companies separate their e-commerce offering into a separate, distinct shopping site. But therein lies the problem – by doing so you are presenting your web visitors with a virtual doorway, going from one kind of space to another. The result is it plays havoc with their memory.
So, they read something on your blog pages which they enjoy and find interesting and so they pop over to your ecommerce site to buy the associated product. The only problem is by the time they get there they have gone through that virtual doorway, leaving behind all that “blog stuff” and so they then can’t remember what they came to buy.
Having separate sections on a website which are clearly delineated could cause memory problems for your website visitors – which could impact upon your sales. Take a tip from Facebook or Wikipedia; ensure your website just is “the same” wherever people travel, so they don’t sense any virtual doorways.
- What did I come in here for? Study explains why we forget simple tasks (cbsnews.com)
- Walking Through Doors Makes You Forget Things (geekologie.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+