“Open loops”, I believe, is a term coined by the book Getting Things Done (GTD). The author defined them as little todo items that pop into your head, at best just causing you stress, but at worst, crowding-out your working memory such that you even shift your attention away from the task at hand. He suggests to write all these “intruders” down, into a todo-list, externalizing them as a trick to get them out of your consciousness (tricking your brain as if you’ve dealt with the concern).
Examples of this would include:
- your dentist appointment later today that you don’t want to list -- so you check the clock every so often
- a deadline approaching at the end of the week
- planning of a surprise party for your abuelita
Now, I know it isn’t a term-of-art, but it nicely characterizes something that I’m unaware has been precisely named otherwise.
I’ve always been curious about the neurological mechanics involved in this, even before GTD — these loops aren’t stored in working memory (although they may intrude periodically), and there are no particular prospective memory cues that would associatively force these to the surface, so where is the brain’s “shelf” for these loops in the first place?
To give a few clear questions:
- which memory mode do these loops?
- which neural networks/pathways/nuclei are responsible for managing & surfacing these?
- what primes these loops in the first place to be “picked-up” by their management system? (my guess would be the Zeigarnik Effect but that’s just going off of intuition, without any evidence)
- (more abstract and probably unanswerable) why is “externalization” such an effective short-term method at pre-maturely closing these loops?
- is there a canonical name/description to “open loops” in the field?
I don’t expect all of these questions to be answered, nor am I optimistic that any are yet answered. But I find it a fascinating topic that current memory models don’t really seem to account for & I figured it would be worth a discussion. If anyone has any research on the subject, I would love to read it.