Wednesday, 19 June 2013

What kind of building is a memory palace?

A memory palace is a very ancient technique for enhancing our memory. It is also known as the Method of Loci. Why and how does it work?

The principle behind it is called elaboration, a more profound way information processing. This kind of information processing creates a network in our brain, making the memories more easily accessible and thus facilitates recalling. Elaboration can be done by assigning meaning to something or by creating a vivid or even bizarre image of it. For example, to remember a telephone number, you could assign a character from Sesame Street to each of the digits, and each of the Sesame Street characters sits in a certain spot on your way from home to work. Last year, we reported on how incredibly powerful this technique can be. Joshua Foer became memorising champion using it.

Here is a short video introducing the technique.


Now the method has even been used for giving therapy to depressive individuals. The idea behind this kind of therapy was that people suffering from a depression have great difficulty recalling vivid and positive memories. Thus, in a study by Cambridge researcher Tim Dalgleish, depressive individuals created a vivid memory palace. As it was really difficult for them and their memories were rather barren, they were assisted by therapists. A control group learned another memorising technique. Both groups did equally well on recalling the positive memories shortly after the training, but interestingly, it was only in those that had used the Method of Loci that the effect was still present one week after the training. So the method does not only help recall memories, but it also seems to help improve one’s mental state.

The original article was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. There is an outline of it by Wray Herbert on the Huffington Post.

It is an ancient technique, but it seems to work, even nowadays, and sometimes maybe in even unexpected ways (like in helping depressive individuals).

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