Monthly Archives: December 2011

Offices versus Cubicles, Round 2

Cubicle-living Just when you thought the debate between offices and cubicles was closed, new evidence emerges.

Despite the happy talk about collaboration and interaction, the collateral damage of cubicle and open seating arrangements often outweigh the limited advantages. These ideas, intended to be cost-saving, have created an army of management minnions oblivious to the distinctions between intellectual inspiration and coffee-klatch blather, and infinitely expanded the meaning of “over-share”.

Typically those who vote for these spaces don’t live in them, and apparently that is part of the problem. Once safely ensconced in their offices, they just can’t remember what it’s like to live in the vast prairie outside their door. How do we know?

Years of research have demonstrated the advantages of returning to the context of learning when trying to remember. Even first-graders grasping for the next letter will intuitively prompt their memory with the “A-B-C Song”. The intrepid Radvansky, Krawietz and Tamplin of the University of Notre Dame, however, wanted to know the answer to a bigger question. When you wander into the kitchen in search of something, why can you only remember your true purpose upon return empty-handed to where you started?

Doorways. Yes, you got that right. Doorways.

In a series of three experiments, teasing out causal versus correlative effects, the Notre Dame team revealed the impact of a doorway. Even in a virtual-world environment, walking through a doorway appears to reset our cognitive priorities. That important issue you walked out to solve recedes into the landscape as you walk through that doorway into an environment of new potential threats.

From the perspective of cave- and savanah-dwelling ancestors spanning several more centuries than modern existence, this reassessment of environmental risk is an efficient and even life-saving tendency. But when leaving your office to wash out your coffee cup or give direction, perhaps not so much.

In the virtual world, walking through a doorway consistently reduced the cognitive ability of the subjects to remember details about their purpose.

So can you blame them? 

Thanks to Mind Matters for bringing this study to our attention. Now…why DID I leave my office?