Memory Olympics

Memory athletes are some of the best in the world at retaining information. They compete to see who can remember the most numbers, images, faces/names, words, and card sequences. Researchers wanted to see if these techniques could be used to amplify the memories of average people. Using mnemonics is one of the fastest ways to memorize long sequences of items, and is the technique used in this study for training the average person’s brain to retain information. For the baseline test, researchers invited memory athletes and average people to see how many words they could correctly recall out of 72. The memory athletes obviously performed head and shoulders above the average participants by recalling an average of 70.8 words compared to 39.9 words.

The experimenters recruited 51 participants with no prior memory training and split them into three groups. The first group would receive  mnemonics training for 6 weeks, the second group would learn a different style of memorization training for 6 weeks, and the third group would have no memory training at all. Participants were given a different set of 72 words to memorize and 20 minutes later had to recall as many words as possible. They were all tested again after 24 hours and 4 months.

Group one performed substantially better than groups two and three! Not only did they recall far more words compared to their baseline test, but they also remembered the words for a much longer period of time. Group one remembered an average of 35 more words from  baseline testing compared to group two’s average of 10 words and group three’s average of 6 words. The 24-hour delayed test showed that groups one and two were able to remember more words than from the 20-minute delayed test while the group three remembered fewer words. At the 4-month mark, group one remembered an average of 24 more words than baseline, group two remembered an average of one more word, and group three remembered two fewer words than the baseline. This study shows the power of mnemonic training and can be utilized by average people to increase the power of memorization!

Neuron, 2017; 93(5), 1227-1235

Dresler, M., Shirer, W. R., Konrad, B. N., Müller, N. C., Wagner, I. C., Fernández, G., … & Greicius, M. D. (2017). Mnemonic training reshapes brain networks to support superior memory. Neuron93(5), 1227-1235.

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