How to Double Your Memory Capacity in One Month | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

How to Double Your Memory Capacity in One Month

With exam season looming, Kara Watson looks into a new study that claims it has found a way to double your memory capacity

With exam season coming around quicker than we would like, students are starting to attempt to cram everything about their degree into their heads. It always feels like an impossible task. But new research from Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands has shown that, using a particular method, you can double your memory capacity in just over a month. When 51 people were trained for 30 minutes per day, they could recall about 35 more words from a list than before training.

There are some people who are “super-memorisers”; they can recall long lists of words, or recite thousands of digits of Pi. The researchers wanted to see what makes these people’s brains different to the average person. So, they studied the brain scans of the top 23 competitors in the World Memory Championships. They were compared to the brain scans of people who are a similar age, health, and intelligence, but had an average memory recall (“normal-memorisers”).

What they found was that there were significantly more connections between neurons in the super-memorisers’ brains
What they found was that there were actually no structural differences in the brain between the two different memorisers. What they found instead, was that there were significantly more connections between neurons in the super-memorisers’ brains. This allows different regions of the brains to work together in novel ways. The connections in our brains are described as flexible, and so the number can change throughout our lives. This makes sense as the super-memorisers were not born with amazing memories, but instead they have trained for years to gain that skill. In that case, could normal-memorisers be taught to double their memory capacity?

51 normal-memorisers were divided into three groups: one received no training, one was given using short-term memory training, and the other received strategic memory training. Short-term memory training is when you practice the skill of remembering sequences repeatedly. Strategic memory training is when you are given a specific way of learning items on a list. For this study, “method of loci” was used for the last group. This is sometimes known as the more familiar name of “mind palace”, and it involves you associating words with a remembered place in your head, and then navigating that same space when you want to recall those words.

Participants went from being able to recall about 26 words from a list of 72 before training, to 62 words after training
This strategic training was the most successful. Participants went from being able to recall about 26 words from a list of 72 before training, to 62 words after training. They were also the only group to keep up their high performance four months later with no further training. At the end of the 40 days, this group had more similar brain connectivity to the super-memorisers. The changes occurred mainly in two specific areas in the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex, and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These areas are involved in relating new knowledge to pre-existing knowledge, and strategic learning.

‘It makes sense that these connections would be affected’, said lead author Martin Dresler, ‘These are exactly the things we ask subjects to do when using “method of loci” for memorisation.’

This study was only done on a small sample size, but it is one of the first few studies to look at the brain structure and connectivity of super-memorisers. Further research needs to be done a larger sample size, and to look into more specifically how strategic memory training affects the connections in our brains. We are only just starting to learn how our brains use memory, and this study is an exciting step in that direction.

Print Editor for Sci&Tech. Third year Zoology student, mad about animals, mainly interested in animal behaviour. (@Karaml_Watson)



Published

5th April 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

5th April 2017 at 3:07 am



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