Memory Palace Science: Proof That This Memory Technique Works

Memory Palace image to convey their power for the Magnetic Memory Method blog and podcastIn the modern world of omnipresent information access, memorization is almost a thing of the past.

And this shift has occurred very quickly. Little more than a decade ago, it wasn’t uncommon that a person had to memorize a sizable list of phone numbers belonging to partners, siblings, parents and close friends.

Now Many Of Us Forget Our Own Cell Phone Numbers!

 

Despite this, there are situations in the modern day that still require memorization. Perhaps phone numbers and historical facts are better left to Google, but not everything can and should be searched via a computer.

A notable example which is becoming conversant is “language” – which requires that you memorize a huge amount of vocabulary and grammar.  Until now, there isn’t a technology effective enough to replace human ability to learn and master a language.

In the past, having to memorize information was not optional because information wasn’t easily accessible. Up until the 19th century, paper was expensive, especially for quantities required to make a book.  To add to it was that not many people could read and write so the ability and need to memorize and recall information was critical.

 

Why The Greeks Adored Memory Palace Science

 

That’s why a powerful memorization method was adored by the ancient Greeks. This technique is used even as at today by memory experts to commit huge amounts of information to mind. And thanks to have an abundance of Ancient Greek facts that have been handed down, anyone can learn to use a Memory Palace at any time.

One such memory expert, used it to memorize Pi to over 100,000 digits. This memorization technique is called the Method of Loci, or more commonly the “Memory Palace”. It is a memorization method that not only has held the test of time, but has been shown to be effective through modern-day studies.

You may even have heard of the Memory Palace technique without realizing it because it has been featured in multiple books and media.

 

The Silence Of The Memory Palace
In Fiction And Movies

 

For example, the technique was employed by the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the novel series “Hannibal” written by an American author Thomas Harris. In several passages of the novel, Lecter was described as mentally walking through an elaborate Memory Palace to remember facts. That’s the basics of the Memory Palace technique.

Although relatively unknown, this method can be a game-changing technique for people who want to improve their ability to retain large amounts of information. You might be a student trying to master information for an exam, or an aspiring polyglot trying to learn Italian. You might be aging and finding it more difficult to recall routine information.

Whatever memorization challenge you face, the Memory Palace technique is a proficient way to finally help you achieve your goals.

 

How the Memory Palace Technique Evolved

 

The origin of the Memory Palace technique was traced to ancient Greece. As mentioned earlier, in the olden days, people had higher incentives to create effective methods of retaining information. Writing and writing materials were difficult to access.

The Memory Palace technique was introduced to the ancient Romans and the world via Greek rhetorical treatises.

The Roman Cicero described the Memory Palace technique in his writings on rhetoric, called De Oratore.

In De Oratore, Circero claims that his Memory Palace method originated from the Greek poet Simonides. Simonides was commissioned to recite a poem praising a group of nobles at a banquet. After the recitation, Simonides left the hall and shortly after the edifice collapsed and killed all the people in the banquet.

The bodies were so badly mangled that not even close relatives could identify the corpses of their own people. However, Simonides was able to identify each of the corpses by name based on their location. Based on this experience, Simonides devised the Memory Palace technique (Bower 1970).

Whether this story is reality or myth, it illustrates the basic idea behind the Memory Palace technique. Luckily, you don’t have to attend a tragic banquet to master the technique and start using it to improve your information retention.

For a true story that will rivet you from beginning to end, check out The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci.

 

How to Create a Memory Palace

 

The basic idea behind the Memory Palace Technique is to associate pieces of information with a location that you are very familiar with. A prime example would be of your home.

If you’d like some free Memory Palace worksheets and a concise memory improvement video course, do this now:

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

 

If you close your eyes right now, you can probably picture your home with a high degree of detail. You know where the furniture is found, what colors the walls are, and even where small objects are placed.

The Memory Palace technique has to do with associating information with specific areas of that familiar location. As you walk through that location, you place pieces of information that you wish to memorize in specific areas. When you want to recall the information, you go through that mental route, and the information will be easily accessible.

The technique is made more effective when you add surprising or out-of-the normal features to the information.

For example, assuming you would like to memorize this sequence of words:

  • hero
  • drill
  • spacecraft
  • music

You could imagine yourself at your front door, with a hero standing next to you. Here you’ve made an association between your door and a hero.

You can increase your ability to memorize and retain this by making the memory more distinctive or unusual. For example, you could imagine the hero opening the door for you, or banging on it before you enter.

You then walk down your hall, and before your feet is a drill. To increase the power of this imagery, imagine that it is turned on and you have to leap to avoid being hurt.

You then turn the corner and see a spacecraft flying out of the window leaving behind itself a trail of glitter.

Finally, you sat down on the couch, and as your bottom touches the cushion, your favorite song starts playing. You might even imagine the word “music” written on the cushion before you sit.

 

The Memory Palace Technique Is Not Necessarily Visual

 

As you can see, the technique seems to require a vivid visual imagination. However, when done correctly using all of the Magnetic Modes, you can memorize a very large amount of information relatively quickly without necessarily seeing the Memory Palace in your mind.

Here’s an infographic to teach you all about the different ways that your brain perceives information:

Magnetic Modes Infographic

Keeping the full range of your Magnetic Modes in mind, you can use any home or location with which you are familiar.

You can even use small areas, such as the inside of a broom closet. You can even use your own body, attaching information to different limbs.

Just keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to see the Memory Palace. You can feel it, hear it, taste it, smell it and even just think about it.

If any of this seems odd, continue reading to be convinced of how seriously well the Memory Palace technique works. You might want to see just how well the Memory Palace can work in combination with Mind Mapping too.

 

The Science behind the Memory Palace Technique

 

Many studies have been conducted to analyze the effectiveness of the Memory Palace technique. It’s all based on the scientific fact that your brain and spatial memory perceive space as a kind of image.

Check out this lecture for more information about how that works:

Cool, right?

The answer is a resounding “yes!”

Even better:

In a study conducted by J. Ross and K. A. Lawrence in 1968, the Memory Palace technique was tested on a group of 40 students. The students were asked to memorize a list of 40 items. They were given only a few minutes to do so, yet were able to recall an average of 38 out of 40 items upon immediate recall.

The next day, the average recall rate dropped to 34 out of 40 items – still very impressive!

Nature Magazine did an investigation of so-called superior memorizers (SM) in a 2002 paper (Maguire et al). They studied a group of 10 champions who had competed in the World Memory Championships.

The researchers first wanted to know if these SMs had some special natural advantages that other people do not have, such as a higher IQ.

They first found out that SMs did not have exceptional cognitive abilities. In fact, they did not even show superior performance on visual memory tasks (for example, the recall of faces).

Retrain your brain image of Albert Einstein

The paper further investigated the brain structure of these SMs, and found out that their brains were not significantly different from average brains (Maguire et al 2002).

The scientists also performed functional MRI scans to see if the SMs brains were activated differently when actively memorizing. Here the SMs brains differed from normal brains – SM’s brains activated particularly when memorizing (Maguire et al 2002).

Significantly, scientists found out that SMs all used mnemonic techniques to aid in their memorization. Nine out of ten of these subjects were specifically using the Memory Palace technique (Maguire et al 2002).

Note: Some of people call it the Mind Palace method, but the basics are the same.

Plus, the different activation patterns observed were associated to the fact that SMs used mnemonic techniques, namely the Memory Palace technique, to memorize information (Maguire et al 2002).

 

No Need For A Huge IQ To Use A Memory Palace!

 

It’s not that SMs are smarter or have bigger brains than the rest of us. It’s that they use mnemonics, and specifically the Memory Palace technique to memorize information. That is the secret behind their impressive abilities. And because these SMs had been practicing the technique for a little over 11 years on average, they were really good (Maguire et al 2002).

This suggests that anyone with average abilities can use this technique to improve his/her memory.

And once you know the drill, it’s really just a matter of spending some time with a few solid Memory Palace training exercises. Like these:

Even if you are not seeking to learn large amounts of information, the Memory Palace technique still has something to offer. There is evidence that the Memory Palace technique can help maintain a healthy brain during old age.

 

Benefits of the Memory Palace
Technique for the Aging Brain

 

As we age, our memories become weaker. In elderly people, this might lead to a frustrating situation where they are struggling to recall routine information.

There has been much study on age-related memory loss, but so far not many effective solutions to this problem.

Happily, the Memory Palace technique holds promise in aiding the enhancement of memory in the aging brain.

One study conducted in Norway in 2010 employed expert instructors, who taught the Memory Palace technique to 23 volunteers. The average age of these volunteers was 61 (Engvig et al 2010).

Gary Small author of 2 Weeks to a Younger Brain

After training, these volunteers were able to memorize a list of 30 words in sequential order in under 10 minutes – impressive!

A control group, a set of volunteers of the same average age, sex and education was included in the study. They were not trained in the Memory Palace technique, and were instructed to memorize the list as well (Engvig et al 2010).

Afterwards, both groups were released into the world to live normally for eight weeks.

When they returned to the study, researchers challenged both groups to a recall task.

They first flashed a list of 15 unrelated words, each for only a second. The volunteers were then instructed to recall the words in order.

Researchers then showed them a list of 30 words. Half of these words had been displayed in the initial 15 word list while the other half was completely new.

The volunteers were asked to pick out words that had previously appeared and also identify their correct position in the first list (Engvig et al 2010).

Volunteers trained in the Memory Palace technique outperformed the non-trained volunteers for recognizing the position of the words (Engvig et al 2010).

The study also measured the amount of brain thinning that occurred in the trained versus untrained groups of volunteers. Normal age causes the brain to shrink. The brain of the individuals showed thickening in areas of the brain which were key for visual abstract memory (Engvig et al 2010).

 

Why The Memory Palace Technique Is Not Snake Oil

 

This research and others like it have shown that the Memory Palace technique is not snake oil.

Sadly, most adults in the modern world are not encouraged to use their imagination. It might therefore be slightly challenging for someone newly using the technique to really get into it, especially if they don’t have the kind of Memory Palace example you can get when you take my free memory improvement course.

However, after practice, many find out that this memory technique is not only effective in memorization, but is also very engaging. Certainly more engaging than the traditional rote memorization technique.

With some practice, you’ll be impressing all of your friends and family with how good your memorization has gotten in no time.

 

References & Further Resources

 

Bower, G. H., “Analysis of a Mnemonic Device: Modern psychology uncovers the powerful components of an ancient system for improving memory” American Scientist, Vol. 58, No. 5, pp. 496-510, September–October 1970 Web. 21 Jan. 2016..

Engvig, Andreas, Anders M. Fjell, Lars T. Westlye, Torgeir Moberget, Øyvind Sundseth, Vivi Agnete Larsen, and Kristine B. Walhovd. “Effects of Memory Training on Cortical Thickness in the Elderly.” NeuroImage 52.4 (2010): 1667-676. 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Fan, Shelley. “Can a Mnemonic Slow Memory Loss with Age?” Scientific American Blog Network. 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Maguire, Eleanor A., Elizabeth R. Valentine, John M. Wilding, and Narinder Kapur. “Routes to Remembering: The Brains behind Superior Memory.” Nature Neuroscience Nat Neurosci 6.1 (2002): 90-95. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

6 Responses to " Memory Palace Science: Proof That This Memory Technique Works "

  1. Alex says:

    Memory Palace Science: Proof That This Memory Technique Works

    Thanks Anthony,

    Memory truly resides in several realms, and science is certainly one of them. Of course, it is a subject of pure and applied sciences, such as medicine, neuropsychology and the like; but it also resides in social science, life science, formal science, etc. Science is an activity that we use to gain knowledge of our world through gathering evidence, conducting experiments, and arriving at conclusions.

    Those who consider Humanities, which applies the scientific method to the study of human culture, as non-scientific have a misunderstanding of science.

    This is sad, but it is not surprising, for our Western systems of education have been degrading woefully over the years. Levels of illiteracy (cultural, literary, scientific, and so forth) and innumeracy are staggering.

    But Memory is the stuff of all scientific and artistic pursuit. In fact, Cicero considered it the “treasure house of knowledge.”

    His work on Rhetoric (“de Oratore”) covers the classical five fields, which are Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery. For him, and for many of his contemporaries, location-based mnemonics was very well known. Many were versed in the skill, so he is almost apologetic when he covers it. Moreover, Memory was made even more powerful when used in conjunction with the four other fields.

    Mental imagery predates spoken language. In fact, a fascinating article on it appears in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/index.html#MneEffIma). It relates imagery to mnemonic and other pursuits. I encourage you and others to read it.

    When I recall how I learned my phone numbers as a child, I “see” the telephone (its colour, its location). I remember dialling the numbers with the rotary dial. Everything was experiential and highly memorable.

    I think we developed such a strong sense of visual memory because it literally was a matter of life and death. We needed to know where to find food or how to avoid pitfalls, and all of this was contingent on visual memory.

    I like your example with hero, drill, spacecraft and music. How I would handle it is combining the words together to form one mnemonic image in one location. For example, I see our old 1966 Dodge Polara parked in our driveway. All of a sudden an old flying saucer spacecraft comes whirling out of the sky and lands on it crushing it like a pancake. A classical Greek Hero comes rushing out of my house with a drill in hand to start fixing the mess; but he’s only making it worse. Bonnie Tyler’s “I need a Hero” is blaring out over the scene, adding the music. Funny, crazy, dynamic and all rolled into one location.

    Possibly why people complain about the effectiveness of Memory Palaces is that they’re not using vivid imagery. It has to be totally outlandish if you want to remember. But as you say, “Sadly, most adults in the modern world are not encouraged to use their imagination. It might therefore be slightly challenging for someone newly using the technique to really get into it.”

    However, once people really use the technique, and as true Memory Scientists, explore, practise, experiment and observe; and compare it to other methods, such as rote learning), I am sure more people will embrace the Science and Art of Memory.

    Kinds regards.

  2. Ah, rotary dial … just thinking of all the phones I’ve used or owned in my life brings back so many memories – and all in the form of a profound memory exercise.

    The phones in the homes of friends and relatives … pay phones around the world.

    And then my first cell phone … how the cell phones of my friends looked …

    Just one word in your post unlocks a treasure house of knowledge that, even if it seems trivial to some, is the most valuable in the world.

    Why?

    Because it makes possible more than just memory exercise. It opens up ideas for even more Memory Palaces.

    The lack of vivid imagery is precisely the complaint so many make. That is solved by understanding how one is visual and then massaging that muscle so that it works. The Memory Palace is both the storehouse and the dojo/gym where all the work is to be done. And it is done at the highest possible level when we act as the scientist of our own memory laboratory.

    And so I hope and work towards you being right that the majority will come to embrace the glorious, ancient technology of the Memory Palace. It’s only going to get more powerful and more useful the older it gets! 🙂

  3. Vladimir says:

    Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for the article.

  4. Betsy says:

    I tell people that anyone can develop a good memory, yet they don’t believe me! Could it be due to mental laziness? I don’t know….

    • Thanks for this, Betsy.

      I’m sure mental laziness is involved in some cases. In others, it could be Digital Amnesia.

      Another reason is that people don’t have accountability, which is one reason why I developed this monthly print newsletter program with a book called The Memory Connection.

      I wasn’t sure if it would be successful or not, but the response so far has been great. I’m confident that this form of continuous training is a new way to help people find their way to memory techniques no matter what might be holding them back.

      Thanks for your post and look forward to your next one soon. We all appreciate hearing from you! 🙂

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