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Researchers Say Famous Memory Trick Works

Those who use 'method of loci,' aka 'memory palace,' fare better in memorization tests
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2021 10:35 AM CST
Updated Mar 13, 2021 7:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Fans of Sherlock Holmes will likely be familiar with something called the "method of loci," notes Live Science. It's a device used by the famous detective to remember things, also called a "memory palace" or "mind palace." Now a new study in Science Advances by researchers from the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany has found that the method does, in fact, work—and for at least monthslong stretches. Under this method, people envision a place or path they know well, then drop pieces of information along it to be retrieved later as they retrace their steps. Here's how Medical Xpress explains it: "A person might assign a bottle of milk to the front step, for example, a bag of seeds to the rose garden just next to the path on the way to a sidewalk, and a bag of a certain kind of nuts, just next to a tree in the yard, if they wanted to memorize their grocery list."

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For one part of the study, researchers trained participants in the method of loci or in another method, or gave them no training at all. After 20 minutes, those in the "loci" group remembered about 62 words from a list, compared with 41 and 36 words in the other groups. After four months, the corresponding results were 50, 30, and 27. One intriguing part of the results: Brain scans showed that people using the method of loci—including people expert in the technique deemed "memory athletes"—had less brain activity in regions typically associated with memory during the experiments. Researchers theorize that the technique makes their brains work more efficiently, or as Medical Xpress puts it, "it was easier for them to memorize the list." (Having a super memory isn't necessarily a good thing.)

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