Can You Improve Your Memory by Using the Method of Loci?

Using Method of Loci to Improve Memory. Tuomas Kujansuu E+/ Getty Images

The History of the Method of Loci

The method of loci is a mnemonic strategy with a long history. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the method of loci originally goes back to the use of imagery by the poet Simonides (c.556-c.468 B.C.) It was also later used to assist those performing speeches to help them remember all of the points they needed to include and in which order to present them.

How Does the Method of Loci Work?

The method of loci involves a mental strategy of imagining yourself placing items around a room- such as on the couch, next to the lamp and on the piano bench- or along a structured pathway in a garden or a neighborhood. The word loci is the plural form of the word locus (i.e., location). The items that you mentally place in the room are the pieces of information that you are trying to learn, such as a list of things that you need to remember in a certain order.

In order to recall each item, visualize yourself walking back through that room (or along that path) and then picking up or passing by each item that you placed there, thus triggering your recall for that information.

How Effective Is the Method of Loci?

The method of loci is a very effective method for learning, with several studies demonstrating a significant improvement in the ability to recall information with its use.

Studies have been conducted across the spectrum of ages including college students, medical students and older adult learners.The method of loci has been demonstrated to be effective in improving memory performance in each group.

Interestingly, one of the studies outlined the question of if the method of loci would be used by older adults after they were trained in it since it requires a high level of attention.

The researchers found that approximately 25% of the participants in their study continued to use the method of loci after receiving training in it and that their memory performance remained significantly improved.

Another study tested a variation of the method of loci by showing students a virtual environment that they briefly reviewed and then had them use locations in that new environment- as compared to a familiar place such as a room in their home- to mentally place the items they needed to remember. The researchers found that participants using the new virtual environment performed just as well as those using a very familiar location to mentally place the information they needed to remember.

Can People with Mild Cognitive Impairment Benefit from Using the Method of Loci?

Mild cognitive impairment is a condition that sometimes, but not always, progresses to Alzheimer's disease. Some research has demonstrated that using mnemonic techniques, including the method of loci, for people with MCI is effective in improving their ability to learn and remember information.

Why Does the Method of Loci Work?

One of the likely reasons that the method of loci is effective is that it uses elaborative rehearsal of information, rather than simple rote rehearsal. Elaborative rehearsal involves manipulating the information by adding meaning and using it, rather than simply looking at a list and repeating it.

Further Reading

Sources:

Acta Psychologica. Volume 141, Issue 3, November 2012, Pages 380–390. Building a memory palace in minutes: Equivalent memory performance using virtual versus conventional environments with the Method of Loci. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000169181200145X

Experimental Aging Research: An International Journal Devoted to the Scientific Study of the Aging Process.Volume 40, Issue 2, 2014. Do Older Adults Use the Method of Loci? Results From the ACTIVE Study. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0361073X.2014.882204?src=recsys#.VeHE9PlUUqs

Hong Kong Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2012 (22), p 3-8. Effectiveness of a Multifaceted Cognitive Training Programme for People with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A One-Group Pre- and Posttest Design. http://www.hkjot-online.com/article/S1569-1861%2812%2900019-8/pdf

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Supplement to Mental Imagery. Ancient Imagery Mnemonics. Accessed August 29, 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/ancient-imagery-mnemonics.html

Teaching of Psychology. April 2015 vol. 42 no. 2 169-173. Location, Location, Location! Demonstrating the Mnemonic Benefit of the Method of Loci. http://top.sagepub.com/content/42/2/169

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