I forgot the combination to the door at work yesterday.

I’ve been working at the same place for three months and I’ve entered it correctly every time I’ve come up to the door. I don’t think I’ve known the combination to any door since I lived in ghetto residence circa 2001, and my surprisingly rambunctious inner child would giggle with glee every time I punched in the passcode to my secret lair. Some dry ice smoke and mechanical door sound effects would really seal the deal, but maybe I’ll ask for those after I’ve held this job for a year.

Imagine my dismay when I tried today and nothing happened.

I’m going to pin this on one of the few psychological tidbits which I’ve hung on to in the six years since I studied the subject. Today is an off day for me; many things are a little different than usual. It’s cold out and I’m dressed in jeans and a t-shirt instead of my standard “I think people would wear this to work” work clothes. This change in context obviously hampered the retrieval process in my head.

Appropriately, I vividly remember the over-large, early 70’s/late 60’s brown/yellow auditorium in U of T’s OISE building where I was first fed this fact. I was sitting next to my friend Helen and the first thing I thought after finishing reading the slide entitled “Encoding Specificity” was that our exam would take place in the same room as our lectures. The gist of it, as I’m sure many of you know or have figured out, as that when a memory is encoded, many details about the setting in which it was learned are captured along with it. The setting,  emotional state, clothing (i guess that counts as environment?) and so forth.

After a broken, multi-part discourse with a senior coworker, I managed to get the door open. As soon as I hit the correct buttons I knew they were the right ones, and couldn’t begin to fathom how I had gotten it wrong in the first place. Hence this post.

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