A new study suggests that secrets used by memory athletes could help people with memory problems.
Memory athletes are people who memorize numbers or words in competitions such as the USA Memory Championship.
Often they use an ancient technique called the memory palace to help their abilities.
This technique was first explained by Greek and Roman treatises, and was popularly demonstrated by the show Sherlock.
How does it work?
Imagine a visual place you know really well. Then place anything you want to remember in different places within this place.
For example, your phone number could be put inside the top drawer of your bedroom.
A paper released this week in the journal Science Advances says this technique does not just work for memory athletes – it can also help normal people memorize more things.
A sample of random people who learned to use memory palaces, also improved their memory and showed similar brain activity to these memory athletes after only six weeks of practice.
Isabella Wagner, the study’s leader and cognitive neuroscientist, tells reporters that, after training, these people’s brains had greater “neural efficiency.” This means their training was causing their brains to become better at storing these memories.
“Everyone can get better memory through practice like this,” Wagner says. “Although training is vital, someone can get success quite fast.”
And four months after the study, participants who learned the memory palace trick were still better at remembering things compared to those who did not learn the technique. They also showed strong deactivation in certain brain regions, which Wagner said was a sign that their new memory efficiency had endured four months after.
“Training makes our brains better and leads to stronger connections between regions that are important for memories,” she says.
Though the people in the study focused on words, she says there’s no reason other types of information could not be used It could be a grocery list or someone’s face. “This method can be applied to anything you want to remember,” Wagner says.