Welcome to the second edition of “Ask the Scientist,” a column-style series of posts where a would-be advice guru fields general “life” questions in an attempt to momentarily avoid the high-drama which comes with a house full of kids. (Click here for the inaugural edition).
And, please, feel free ask your own question in the form below the post!
Joe McG. writes:
“Is the inability of a person to close any type of door or drawer, after opening it, a learned behavior or does it find its roots deep in a person’s DNA?”
First of all, Joe McG, thanks for bringing a question that marries the domestic (i.e. a presumed real-world living situation) with science (i.e. an inquiry that touches upon genetics). I’ll leave it to you to decide if I’m actually excited that there is a scientific aspect to this query, or am, with shameful and bitter tears, sarcastically deflecting my inadequacy as a de facto member of the scientific community out of fear that I will have my second-rate status downgraded to a third- or fourth-rate level.
Despite reservations fueled by my sense of inadequacy, this question is timely, as I have had the pleasure of not only being a person but am also currently raising persons. And while I could recount to you supremely interesting stories as to how this has played out in my home, I will rely mostly on the “science.”
And science there is because a chart there is!
This statement might raise some further questions in your mind, such as:
“Is this chart from real data?”
ANSWER: It is a chart, which typically comes from data, yes.
“But, did THIS chart come from REAL data?”
ANSWER: What is ‘real’ anyway?
“Seriously, where did THIS chart come from?”
ANSWER: IF you must know, it is from my anecdotal observations.
“But, isn’t that a bit circular, basing a scientific chart on your own anecdotal observations?”
ANSWER: Have any other “scientist” bloggers made a chart to explain this to you? No. No, they haven’t.
“But, isn’t it wrong to . . . .”
ANSWER: Sorry, I simply don’t have time to field so many questions in one post.
Anyway, back to the data. Recent scientific studies (see above) suggest that this trait, where a person opens a drawer or door and then fails to close it afterward, is one that most of us are born with, but which many outgrow with time (much like bed-wetting and watching American Ninja Warrior.) Figure 1, below, is a plot of age vs average doors left open per day and shows this trend very plainly (and very scientifically, I might add). Some points of interest are outlined below the chart.
Point 1: Here we have the toddler years. You’ll note that the frequency of doors/drawers (referred to hereafter as “droors”) left open is very low. It is currently believed that this is due to the curious nature of toddlerhood, where the little tike is exploring the home, opening AND closing droors simply for the mechanical thrill of discovering how it works.
Point 2: Around 4-5 years old, there is an uptick in left-opens. This is easily explained by the fact that the child routinely needs something inside or behind droors, and so must open said droors to retrieve the item. However, once that task is complete, there is no conceivable reason in the child’s mind why the droor would need to be closed, least of all by them, no matter how many times their parent or guardian claims otherwise. Besides, their experience tells them that SOMEONE (or SOMETHING) else has been closing all the droors, leading to a widely-held childhood belief that the home is filled with magical creatures who do the less-desirable domestic tasks.
Point 3: Around the age of 11-12, there is observed a steep drop in left-opens to a negative level! This is believed to be due to the pre-teen entering into a well-known phase where doors and drawers are slammed shut out of pure pre-teen angst. Thus, during this brief phase, the child is actually — and quite unintentionally — shutting droors that he or she did not even open!
Point 4: It is in the teenage years that we observe the gradual decrease in left open frequency, one that is universally contributed to the fact that, as a person enters his or this phase, they simply lack the energy or wherewithal to do much of anything, including rising from the couch to retrieve something from behind a droor.
Point 5: Like many childhood traits, a vast majority of people grow out of this habit as they reach maturity, and spend a great deal of energy chastising others in their houshold for the foolishness of it. If nothing else, they finally realize that it is a protection mechanism, as opened droors waste money and allow outsiders entrance to our homes or vermin entrance into our cabinets, not to mention all of the opportunities they present for banged shins and whacked heads. Many an otherwise-prudish parent has let fly an expletive when they are whacked in the nape of the neck by an unclosed cabinet door.
And while you did not ask for my “advice,” per se, here’s how I suggest you handle this, should this be an ongoing issue in your home. First, I would try something simple, like padlocking every door or drawer with a military-grade biometric combination lock. If this fails to curb the issue, you can lace the door and drawer handles with an invisible dye that will react with a chemical you will daily place on the hands of your loved ones. Each person’s chemical will be unique to them, so when you find a door opened, you will be able to shine a special black light onto the handle to see who last touched it, thereby bringing effective shame upon the perpetrator.
Another method that many have found successful is removing all doors and drawers from the home. This can be challenging, particularly when it comes to exterior doors, but a professionally installed series of plastic curtains, complete with a negative pressure h-vac and laser activated motion detection system, as can be found in many modern warehouses, can eliminate this pesky problem. Some might find the ~$250,000 price tag a bit steep, but what price can you place on human sanity?
Not mention neck-nape comfort.
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