Why Do I Keep Forgetting Where I Parked?

Automologist LING spends more time looking for her car than she’d like to admit. 

Just recently, after saying goodbye to my friend whom I had dinner with at a mall, she texted me awhile later to check if I had gotten home safely. I replied, “I’m only just leaving now…I couldn’t find my car.” This wasn’t the first time that this had happen to me, so I’d really like to know why I have so much difficulty remembering where I parked.

It turns out that I’m not the only one. A survey conducted by Confused.com back in 2011 found that 56% of UK drivers have at one time forgotten where they parked, and most unfortunately it happens more to women: 63% of female respondents fessed up to their forgetfulness compared to 43% of men. Is it because men are better navigators (and thus find it easier to find they way back to their cars) due to evolutionary advantage? But while ancient men were out hunting mammoths, the women wandered around foraging for nuts and berries too. Therefore, some researchers believe that it is in fact due to hormones, as studies have shown women who take testosterone show improved spatial navigation abilities. If ever I take some, I’ll try finding my way around KL without Waze and I’ll let you know how I fare…and also if I start growing a beard.

A long-time study conducted at the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at UCLA could have the answer. The study tried to understand how the brain forms new memories, and it found that certain neurons in the medial temporal lobe of the brain change when you associate a particular person with a specific place. The test involved showing participants a fake picture of Clint Eastwood and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to get the brain to form an association between the two. The researchers believe that this could explain why Alzheimer’s patients cannot remember simple things—like where they parked—because these particular neurons are affected by this disease. Great, I have early onset Alzheimer’s (I have a family history of it, so I’m only half joking and might even be starting to panic). Also, it is difficult to make an association between your car and the parking spot because THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.

Does anyone remember that once upon a time ago, multi-storey parking areas in shopping malls would mark the different levels with a different animal for each? Usually sea creatures for the lower levels, going up all the way to land animals for the middle levels and some kind of tree-dwelling creature and birds for the upper levels. It was certainly easier to remember, at least, which level my Dad had park on, because images are easier to recall than digits or alphabets (eg. Level B3, Row A, Column 18…TOO MUCH FOR MY BRAIN. ARGH!).

Now, of course, I can whip out my phone and snap a picture of my car’s location, indicated on the nearest column. But that’s if I remember to remember to do that. The only thing I can remember to do for sure is to always have comfortable shoes on, because I might have some unplanned trekking to do through the parking lot, in search of my car. I always find it in the end though…so far.

Image credit: blog.allstate.com

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