We talk a lot about getting the most out of your studying by improving your ability to study rather than just spending more time sitting looking at textbooks. Loci memory training is one of the more popular buzzwords going around at the moment so we thought we’d take a look at it.
Is it effective? Is it a waste of your time and how do you even use it?
Before we look at the Loci training specifically, I do entirely approve of improving your studying ability. The better you get at studying itself the better results you’ll get with less time spent studying. To make the most from your studying don’t focus on the time you invest. Focus on the quality of your study session over the quantity you do. This is one of the key things we focus on and we absolutely think you can get twice the results in half the time. Make sure you grab the free audiobook Unlimited Memory by a chess grandmaster which will absolutely transform your results overnight if you apply the techniques.
Loci Memory Training vs Generic ‘Brain Training’
Right now there is little or no evidence that specific memory apps or games confer any long-term benefit. For this reason, a group of neuroscientists released a joint statement criticizing “brain training” games and software.
There is some evidence that staying cognitively active throughout life helps delay the onset of dementia. But the studies that look at the time of onset of dementia are not looking at games they are considering education and intellectual challenges. This article describes some of the findings:
More school, challenging work and mental engagement can delay dementia
I’m not sure about scientific studies, but one type of memory training that might be worth considering is the method of loci, or the construction of “memory palaces”. It is starting to be studied in neuroscience too.
Note that “lasting brain changes” are not necessarily the same as “lasting brain benefits”. But anecdotally, people who practice the method of loci experience all kinds of improvements to their quality of life.
One person who used this method, Jim Karol, gave a talk about it, and how it changed his life, at MIT recently.
“How Biological Memory really works: Insights from the Man with the World’s Greatest Memory – Mc. Govern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
This was a great answer from this question on Quora.
So the Loci method has some great anecdotal evidence and impressive names behind it. The best way to really explain it is probably by video (don’t worry – it isn’t very long but it’s going to be easier to follow than me trying to explain it completely in text).
This video gives a pretty good description on improving your memory with the Loci method for those who haven’t tried it before.
Applicability of the Loci Method
The designation is not used with strict consistency. In some cases it refers broadly to what is otherwise known as the art of memory, the origins of which are related, according to tradition, in the story of Simonides of Ceos and the collapsing banquet hall. For example, after relating the story of how Simonides relied on remembered seating arrangements to call to mind the faces of recently deceased guests, Stephen M. Kosslyn remarks “[t]his insight led to the development of a technique the Greeks called the method of loci, which is a systematic way of improving one’s memory by using imagery.” Skoyles and Sagan indicate that “an ancient technique of memorization called Method of Loci, by which memories are referenced directly onto spatial maps” originated with the story of Simonides. Referring to mnemonic methods, Verlee Williams mentions, “One such strategy is the ‘loci’ method, which was developed by Simonides, a Greek poet of the fifth and sixth centuries BC.” Loftus cites the foundation story of Simonides (more or less taken from Frances Yates) and describes some of the most basic aspects of the use of space in the art of memory. She states, “This particular mnemonic technique has come to be called the “method of loci”. While place or position certainly figured prominently in ancient mnemonic techniques, no designation equivalent to “method of loci” was used exclusively to refer to mnemonic schemes relying upon space for organization.
In other cases the designation is generally consistent, but more specific: “The Method of Loci is a Mnemonic Device involving the creation of a Visual Map of one’s house.”
This term can be misleading: the ancient principles and techniques of the art of memory, hastily glossed in some of the works, cited above, depended equally upon images and places. The designator “method of loci” does not convey the equal weight placed on both elements. Training in the art or arts of memory as a whole, as attested in classical antiquity, was far more inclusive and comprehensive in the treatment of this subject.
Brain scans of “superior memorizers”, 90% of whom use the method of loci technique, have shown that it involves activation of regions of the brain involved in spatial awareness, such as the medial parietal cortex, retrosplenial cortex, and the right posterior hippocampus. The medial parietal cortex is most associated with encoding and retrieving of information. Patients who have medial parietal cortex damage have trouble linking landmarks with certain locations; many of these patients are unable to give or follow directions and often get lost. The retrosplenial cortex is also linked to memory and navigation. In one study on the effects of selective granular retrosplenial cortex lesions in rats, the researcher found that damage to the retrosplenial cortex led to impaired spatial learning abilities. Rats with damage to this area failed to recall which areas of the maze they had already visited, rarely explored different arms of the maze, almost never recalled the maze in future trials, and took longer to reach the end of the maze, as compared to rats with a fully working retrosplenial cortex.
There are a lot of different memory tricks or methods floating around. I always say focus on whatever works for you but while a lot of these things have anecdotal evidence behind it the Loci method is one of the few I feel pretty confident in suggesting to people.