Alternative MethodsConventional Methods

March 29

Using This Ancient Technique to Memorize Things Causes Lasting Changes to The Brain

Grace Armstrong
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 5 min.

Weird as it might sound, there are competitive rememberers out there who can memorize a deck of cards in seconds or dozens of words in minutes. So, naturally, someone decided to study them. It turns out that practicing their techniques doesn’t just improve your memory — it can also change how your brain works.

There’s been a long-standing debate about whether memory athletes are born with superior memories, or whether their abilities are due to their training regimens. These tend to include an ancient memorization strategy called the method of loci, which involves visualizing important pieces of information placed at key stops along a mental journey. This journey can be an imaginary walk through your house or a local park, or your drive to work. The important thing is that you can mentally move back through it to retrieve the pieces of information you stored. (The ancient Greeks are said to have used it to remember important texts.)

The right kind of memory training may cause lasting changes to the brain

Boris Nikolai Konrad, a memory coach and athlete who’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for memorizing 201 names and faces in just 15 minutes, chalks his superior memory abilities up to training with this and other mnemonic techniques. “It’s a sport like any other,” Konrad told The Verge. Only, he adds, “you’re not moving that much.” But practicing is key.

To find out what’s going on in top-level rememberers’ brains, Konrad teamed up with neuroscientist Martin Dresler at Radboud University in the Netherlands. They recruited 23 of the top 50 memory competitors in the world. All were between the ages of 20 and 36. Then, the scientists scanned the memory athletes’ brains while they were just relaxing, and also while they memorized a list of 72 words.

The team, and their co-investigators at Stanford University, found that the memory athletes’ brains don’t appear to be built any differently from yours or mine, according to results they published in the journal Neuron. “That was quite surprising, since these are really the best memorizers in the world,” Dresler says. “And still, they didn’t show a single memory structure, any single region or collection of regions that was anatomically strikingly different from normal control subjects.”

Even so, their brains don’t work the way yours or mine does. The athletes were able to recall at least 70 of the 72 words they studied — compared to an average of only 39 words for the non-athletes they were compared to. 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.

o figure out if the method of loci is behind these memory superpowers, Konrad and Dresler 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. One control group got a training regimen of the same length, but played a simple short-term memory game that didn’t involve any strategy. And the other control group didn’t have to do anything but show up for brain scans and memory tests.

Sure enough, 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.

Additionally, 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. That was true even at rest, when they weren’t trying to memorize anything. That implies the right kind of memory training causes lasting changes to the brain, says Jee Kim, a neuroscientist investigating memory at the University of Melbourne who was not involved in this study.

So, why does the method of loci work so well? After all, brain-training games like the ones marketed by Lumosity don’t actually make you smarter (which is why Lumosity had to pay $2 million to settle charges of deceptive advertising). And this latest study bears that out — the group playing the short-term memory brain-training game didn’t improve significantly.

But the group using the method of loci did — and right now, Konrad and Dresler can only speculate as to why. They think it works by taking abstract, unrelated pieces of information and making them signposts on a route — which incorporates navigational and spatial memory skills humans evolved over time. Ancient people probably didn’t need to remember the order of playing cards of hundreds of names. But, Konrad says, “It was always important for humans to remember where is shelter, where is food, where is danger — and therefore our brains can do that easily.”

The same patterns of brain activity started emerging in the group that trained like the memory athletes

The paper did have some limitations: for one thing, the participants in the training portion of the study were all male, and were all relatively young. So it’s tough to generalize the findings to the broader population — after all, anyone who’s tried to learn a new language as an adult knows that younger brains are much more primed for learning. The University of Melbourne’s Kim told The Verge in an email that the methods and analyses are sound, and the study adds a new piece to the puzzle. But she also wants to know what biological changes are driving the changes in brain activity, and how that changes with age.

Dresler says those are questions he and his colleagues hope to answer in the future, with more people and more advanced methods. And in the meantime, the take-home point is that memory skills can be learned. “It shows that superior memory on that level is not something that is just inborn talent, but is something that essentially can be learned by everyone,” Dresler says — before adding the caveat, “at least, to a certain extent — probably not everyone will win the world championships.”

How to Build Your Memory Palace

The method of loci is also known as the memory palace, and Konrad says the first step is to make up a set of locations. The place doesn’t matter as much as your familiarity with it. Then you create a map in your mind with a series of stops. The first stop might be your front door. The second could be the table next to it where you put down your sunglasses. Then, when you’re given a list of words to memorize, you visualize scenes that link the words with each stop.

Say the first word is “keys,” Konrad says. You probably wouldn’t want to imagine sticking your keys in the lock — that’s too mundane. It’s better to picture something more vivid: “Maybe someone throwing keys, like arrows in a dart board, into your front door — and you’re a bit scared of that,” Konrad says. That would stick in your memory. So then, when you want to remember the words, you picture yourself walking through the memory journey you plotted out. And when you see the keys sticking out like throwing knives from your front door, you’ll remember the word: keys.

via The Verge


Leave your questions here

To write a comment you must
Category filter
Concern filter
Type filter

All categories

Spiritual Healing
$222 USD
Healing from Trauma at a Quantum Soul Level

Are you burnt out from clinical therapy practices that require years of treatment with few results? Are you ready to release and transmute your trauma once and…

LunaRio Silver Deer
Spiritual Healing
$10 USD
I will do spiritual transformation for you

I will do spiritual transformation. Life occurs as a series of cycles in a single human lifetime. Cycles exist in almost a spiral pattern. There is a flow and …

Wisdom Realms
Career Coaching
$499 USD
Reset 1-0n1 Coaching and Mentoring Programme

Are you returning to work after a career break, or are you looking for a new job or career change?

This programme is for you.

I’ve developed the RESET coachi…

Carla Martins
Life Coaching
$399 USD
1-on-1 Coaching

The journey started with our discovery call, and You decided: ” I’m ready! Let’s do this!”.

We will engage in 1-on-1 coaching sessions for 90 minutes. In this…

Carla Martins
Emotional Stress Release
$800 USD
Retreat( India): Connect With Your Inner Wisdom 1st to 4th Sept

Join us for an immersive experience anchored amidst the beauty and tranquillity of Kasar Devi, Almora, India

1st Sept’22 ( Thursday) - 4th Sept 2022 ( Sunday …

Psychic Reading
$80 USD
I will do oracle and tarot card readings

I will do oracle & tarot card reading in any area of your life. You will get answer from the Angelic, Elemental, Faerie or Galactic realms. I will share wi…

Wisdom Realms
Natal Astrology
$15 USD
15 min reading of SOUL structure

[SOUL STRUCTURE]Each soul has own structure,and knowing it means to have unlimited access to inner energy. This readings are telling about your talents and str…

Ksenia Jdanova
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Ask a Question?

Supportive reflection of a current question that you would like clarity around. Using the SMART method to seek quidance in stepping onto your path of potential…

Beverly Lynn
$150 USD
Reiki Services (distant healing session)

In this hour long distant healing session I will use long distance Reiki, crystals and essential oils to balance your Chakras. Balancing your Chakras allows en…

Erin Kirby
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Intuitive Tarot Reading

Affordable Tarot reading to offer guidance on any given concern.

Elphie Shoppe
$10 USD
Talk Therapy Sessions

Hello there: These times are dread. Do you need to talk with a safe professional about a troubling personal challenge? I am a professional listener and will li…

Eulalee Thompson
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Tarot Reading

I offer tarot readings with a 100% accuracy rate. The tarot is meant to give you advice, to point you in the right direction or to provide you with clarity. Bu…

Zara Kalil
Angel Healing
$10 USD
Mental Health Advice & Tips

I can help you with past issues and give advice and tips on how to better your life. I can see through my third eye and receive messageson what you need to do …

Beings Of Light
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Discovery call

Are you interested in supporting your health with safe and effective holistic medicine? Not sure if you should switch diets, work with a health coach or explor…

Suzana Da Costa
Wellness Coaching
$50 USD
Mental Health and Holistic Lifestyle Coaching

Hi there! I’m Doug and I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Lifestyle and Mental Health Coaching sessions. Navtigating life with mental health issues of any sevarity is a h…

Doug Peterson
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Mental Health and Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Consultation

Hi there! I’m Doug and I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Lifestyle and Mental Health Coaching sessions. Navtigating life with mental health issues of any sevarity is a h…

Doug Peterson
Family Psychology
$10 USD
Psychic Reading

Expert in Love Relationship, Tarot Psychic Reading
I can give you more powerful insight of every part of your life. With the help of Crystal ball my Psychic re…

Aamir Bilal
Career Coaching
$195 USD
Holistic Lifestyle & Nutrition Coaching


If this sounds like you, then you don’t need a new diet… you n…

David Giddings
Bach flower therapy
$120 USD
Bach Flower Essence Consultation

Exploration of where you’re feeling stuck or limited in life and recommendations of Bach Flower Essences to help loosen and dissolve old patterns.

Suzana Da Costa
Cognitive-behavioral therapy
$100 USD
Subliminal therapy

In this service we will use Subliminal therapy and Sound healing as alternative to tradition cognitive behavioral therapy.

We are born with our thoughts. Do n…

Ahmed Amin Youssef
Spiritual Healing
$10 USD
Intro 2 Alignment Healing Chant


That is my greeting to the spirit within you. Join me for a welcome introduction session to celebrate my arrival at Core Spirit!

For 15 minutes I wi…

Ti3rc3 Fire
$55 USD
Psychic Medium Readings

Currently, all readings will be offered virtually.
Appointments are available on Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 9am-1pm (UK Time Zone).
When we…

Jan Morgan
Oracle Cards Reading
$25 USD
Psychic Reading 15 Minutes

Well-versed in the main 5 clairs, I will Intuitively answer your questions for 15 minutes.

Jyll Hoyrup
Emotional Stress Release
$150 USD
Creatrix® Breakthrough

This is a revolutionary process, SPECIALLY designed for women. You will be able to clear your most depeest BLOCKS and limiting beliefs. 

This is the only too…

Tamar Viva

Related Articles