Why do we go blank?

Charles McCarthy
Why do we go blank?

Being unable to continue with our speech in front of a large number of people or simply getting stuck without knowing how to give free rein to our thoughts at a certain moment because we have become blank is very common. But why do we go blank? What is behind this opaque filter that gives us those very committed moments of pause? Let's dive into it.


  • Mind blank
  • The influence of stress
  • Going blank and working memory
  • What to do when we go blank?
    • References

Mind blank

The mental emptiness that arises when we go blank has its explanation. To do this, we must bear in mind that all our mental activity has to do with memory and more specifically with memories. In this way, memory is not only a warehouse in which we accumulate the information we receive, but it is also a distributor of this information every time we need it in the form of memories and associations..

A) Yes, the phenomenon of going blank is a sign that there is a crisis in the functioning of our memory. For some reason, our memories have been temporarily inaccessible due to the existence of a blockage in the route that normally starts when we try to access the information we have saved..

The influence of stress

Many times, one of the obstacles that appears when accessing the information we have stored is emotional tension caused by the experience of anxiety or stress. Specifically due to the neurochemical reaction that occurs under these states and that affects the entire nervous system and causes the release of hormones in our body.

Chen we feel stressed, the adrenal glands of our kidneys secrete glucocorticoids, the hormones responsible for the inability to remember at this time and to reduce access to the information we have stored due to their effect on the functioning of the hippocampus (the part of the brain related to declarative memory).

Thus, the reason for our body to begin to function in this way is found in that when we feel stress, an alert state is activated that quickly assimilates what we are experiencing as a dangerous situation. So it prepares us to react and avoid damage, but in exchange for lowering our level of reasoning and creativity, which is what actually allows us to express ourselves in a much more grounded way, thus producing the blockage..

Although we cannot forget that going blank in other cases is associated with aging and the appearance of a neurodegenerative disease.

Going blank and working memory

According to a study by psychologists at the University of Chicago, people with better memories are more likely to go blank, especially when they are under pressure. So if a person frequently goes blank it may be because they have an excellent working memory.

Working memory is the set of processes that allow us to temporarily store and manipulate information to perform complex cognitive tasks such as language comprehension, mathematical skills, learning, reading or reasoning..

Thus, some people have better working memory than others. In other words, it is as if they had an extra facilitator that allows them to carry out mental juggling; Since the work memory is responsible for storing data for a short period of time, while we use it to do other things. So people with better working memory have this facilitator that allows them to perform tasks successfully, but when they are distracted by the pressure to which they are subjected, despite trusting and having this mechanism, they have a mental block due to the overload they experience and go blank.

What to do when we go blank?

The best strategy for when we go blank is to stay relaxed and keep stress in check. So practicing some relaxation or breathing control techniques before situations that we know can make us nervous is ideal. With this we will reduce our levels of stress and anxiety and increase our attentional self-control to avoid overloading ourselves.

It is also advisable not to be too critical of ourselves, especially when we have to present a presentation in public or are doing an exam, since our brain with the intention of resetting can go blank.


Baddeley, A. (1986) Working Memory. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-852133-2.

Chauveau, F. et. Al. (2010) Rapid stress-induced corticosterone rise in the hippocampus reverses serial memory retrieval pattern. Hippocampus; 20 (1): 196-207.

Sattizahn, J. R. et. Al. (2016) A Closer Look at Who “Chokes Under Pressure”. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition; 5 (4): 470-477.

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 8, 47-89.

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