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Centuries-Old Memory Trick Proven To Strengthen Short- & Long-Term Memory
By Mikelle Leow, 04 Mar 2021
Image via Shutterstock
People with super memory are often envied by others. The good news is you can “hack” your brain with an ancient memorization technique. Even better, recent findings suggest this trick can both enhance short-term and long-term recall.
The method is called the “method of loci,” and it has been used since ancient Grecian times, Gizmodo reports. The technique involves memorizing the layout of loci, which means places, and then associating landmarks from those places with things you need to remember.
For instance, you can envision the area between your home and neighborhood bodega to form a shopping list in your head. There might be a fire hydrant nearby, which you can associate with sriracha sauce; a garden, which could remind you of salad dressing; and a tree, which could bring to mind eggs, since eggs can be found in nests and nests are often in trees.
When you’re at the store, you should be able to remember what to pick up by recalling this “mind place.”
The method of loci isn’t just good for remembering shopping lists. A new study led by neuroscientist Isabella Wagner from the Netherlands’ Radboud University Medical Center reveals that relying on it can actually rewire the brain to make room for more things to remember.
Creating a “mind place” allows you to tag new and unrelated information onto this structure. “It definitely helps to form unusual, novel, or even bizarre associations that capture attention,” she told Gizmodo. “The combination of prior knowledge and novelty is very powerful to boost memory.”
Up until recently, the method of loci’s impact on long-term memory wasn’t well-documented. Wagner and her team decided to put the memorization trick to the test by inviting 67 people—17 memory athletes and 50 non-experts—to determine how the technique might affect long-term recall.
The 50 non-experts, who weren’t trained in the method of loci, were split into three groups. The first group was asked to participate in an intensive six-week method of loci course, the second was taught working memory techniques, and the third group was not given any memory training.
The participants had their brain prints captured through fMRI scanners before and after training.
Their task was to memorize random words, displayed in triplets. The participants were asked to determine if the words were shown in the same or different sequence as they had been presented during their training.
“We wanted to see whether novices could train the method of loci to such an extent that they would reach performance levels close to actual memory champions, and also whether their brain processes become similar to those of champions with training,” shared Wagner.
Interestingly, when asked to name the words four months later, the group that was trained on the method of loci could remember an average of 50 words, those who were taught working memory recalled 30 words on average, and the group that received no training could only name 27 words on average.
The researchers were even more surprised that brain scans for both memory experts and non-memory experts revealed lower activity in the lateral prefrontal, posterior parahippocampal, and retrosplenial cortices—areas usually activated when people study or attempt to remember random word lists.
“This was somewhat surprising to us, as better performance is typically associated with increased engagement of different brain regions. What we saw here is the opposite,” explained Wagner.
However, the decrease in activity in these areas could indicate “neural efficiency,” meaning that fewer resources are exhausted in the brain when recalling something. Your brain ends up remembering stuff with much less effort.
Jeni Pathman, an assistant professor at York University in Toronto, told Gizmodo that this study proves it is possible for regular people to enhance their memory as efficiently as memory athletes. However, she noted that more research is due, since this experiment was conducted within a small group.
Video via Big Think
[via Gizmodo, video via Big Think, cover image via Shutterstock]
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