How to become a “memory athlete” using an old strategy — and bring about lasting changes in the brain

Memory athlete

DO IT SOON What’s up? There’s been a long-standing debate about whether memory athletes (people who can perform extraordinary feats of memory such as recounting the value of pi to 70,000 digits) are born with superior memories, or whether their abilities are due to their training regimens.
What’s new?  Scientists have scanned memory athletes’ brains while they were just relaxing, and also while they memorised a list of 72 words. They found that the memory athletes’ brains don’t appear to be built any differently from yours or mine. What’s more, while the professional rememberers’ brains were structurally similar to the control group, the memory athletes’ brain scans showed unique patterns of activity, where brain regions that are involved in memory and cognition were statistically more likely to fire together.

The ‘method of loci” (see the accompanying video) is a very old strategy for improving memory. To figure out if the method of loci is behind these memory superpowers, a research study divided 51 men in their 20s who had never trained for or participated in memory competitions into three different groups: one group was trained in the method of loci, and they practiced using an online course for six weeks, 30 minutes per day. After the six weeks were up, the group that trained with the method of loci demolished their previous scores on the second set of memory tests – recalling an average of 62 of the 72 words, an increase of about 36 words. By contrast, the group practicing with the memory game and the group that didn’t train at all barely improved.

It also turned out that practicing their techniques doesn’t just improve your memory – it can also change how your brain works. The same patterns of brain activity that showed up in the memory athletes also started emerging in the group trained with the method of loci, implying that the right kind of memory training causes lasting changes to the brain.

So what? The take-home point is that memory skills can be learned.
SOURCE: The Verge

Video: Method of loci



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  1. Is it a great idea to improve the memory of people, or is it better to improve problem solving skills? WE have plenty of aids for our memory these days with cloud computing. With the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence in all walks of life, problem solving 9????), and imagination (?????) may be the only advantage that humans will have in the future!

    1. Agreed, Sekhar, that memory today can be easily, and more truthfully, off-loaded to devices. However, as you will agree, a strong memory is an important aspect of critical thinking and problem solving. I agree that the challenges posed by the rapid growth of AI places a lot of emphasis on humans to leverage the aspects of thinking that makes them human.

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