The key to finding anything you've lost, according to a new study

The new research could save you time for the rest of your life

Rachel Hosie
Wednesday 22 February 2017 13:41 GMT

How is it possible that something you use as often as your keys are seemingly so prone to disappearing? And even though you had your phone literally five minutes’ ago, it’s now nowhere to be seen?

We all lose our most everyday possessions occasionally, some of us more often than others.

But according to new research, there could actually be a very simple way to find something you've lost - you’re just looking in the wrong place.

A study from the University of Aberdeen has concluded that you need to look in the most cluttered parts of your house.

The researchers found that when searching for a lost item, people waste too much time looking in a tidy area which is highly unproductive.

All you need is a quick glance over an uncluttered part of your room to know the item in question isn’t there, but humans tend to keep going back to the area.

“If you're looking for your keys you should focus on the areas with the most clutter, because if they were somewhat more obvious, you would have found them by now,” study author Anna Maria Nowakowska said.

Researchers set their participants on a scavenger hunt of sorts and tracked their eye movements when searching for a target, which was a specific line segment.

They varied the situations and how easy or hard it was to find the target by hiding the target line within a larger line-filled image divided into two halves - half of the image featured lines at contrasting angles, the other half lines at similar angles.

In one half, the target line was easy to spot amongst the lines set at highly contrasting angles, and in the other half, the target line was harder to find.

By tracking eye movements, the researchers found that even when the target line was in the more difficult half, participants spent just as long looking in the easier half.

The study authors concluded that the best search strategy would be not to bother really looking at the clear section at all: “If the target were present on the easy side, you could easily see it using peripheral vision,” Nowakowska told Seeker.

“Looking at the easy side gives you no new information; it only slows you down.”

And the study found that when looking for something, we make lots of unnecessary eye movements over the same area even though we’ve already established the target isn’t there.

So next time you lose your phone charger, passport or lucky pants, you’re going to have to do some serious rummaging.

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