When it comes to memory, some people appear more skilled than others, but all is not lost. A recent study published in the scientific journal Neuron reports engaging in memory training techniques can improve memory. The study suggested that these memory techniques lead to the development of new neural connections in the brain. Even four months following the study, these neural connections remained intact. Many scientists now believe that strategic memory tests could promote improvements in memory and recall.
Does Memory Training Really Work?
The Neuron study indicated certain memory training techniques could lead to improvements in memory, but there are many other techniques, online apps, and methodologies that also claim to promote a sharper mind. Many critics believe memory techniques, particularly those aimed at improving memory in those with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, do not have sufficient empirical support. So, does memory training work? According to the current research—sometimes. However, there are variables involved, particularly the type of technique, and it’s clear to many medical professionals that the topic requires more research.
Types of Memory Training
Memory training can take the form of verbal tests, number tests, repetition exercises, tasks associated with feedback, reward-based exercises, mnemonics, and many others. Often, the ultimate goals of the tests differ. For instance, some aim to boost short-term memory. Others relate specifically to the aging process or certain cognitive abilities. Still others seek to improve conditions like ADHD. Because there are so many memory-training apps, courses, and tests available today online and elsewhere, individuals considering these techniques for efficacy must research each one.
Simonides and the History of Memory Training
Many people point to the 1970s as an important period for the study and development of memory training; however, methodologies for improving memory actually occurred far earlier than the 20th century. Experts call the ancient poet Simonides the father of memory training. One evening, the poet left the building where he was dining to receive a message. During the interim, the building’s roof caved in, killing the occupants within. It fell to Simonides to help identify the bodies crushed beyond recognition. He was able to identify each individual within by recalling where each guest had been seated at the table. A technique known as “place” or “placing” enabled the poet to boost his recall ability. Today, researchers have expanded upon this technique.
The use of keywords to trigger memory and recall relates to the study of foreign language. A student needs to remember that the word for butterfly in French is “papillon.” To boost the student’s ability to recall this information, they use a keyword technique to link papillon to an image. Papillon sounds like paper. Butterflies have paper-like wings. While it’s not always easy to attach the thought of an image to words, students have found this technique to be helpful in many cases.
One can simplify the memorization of a lot of information at once by “chunking” the information. For instance, during the time of Homer, the ancient Greek poet said to have authored the Iliad and the Odyssey, written language did not exist. Yet, long, complex poems were passed from generation to generation because of the poets’ ability to recall them. It’s thought that techniques similar to chunking and keyword phrasing allowed them to recall epic poems with great accuracy. By breaking information like long sequences of numbers into “chunks,” individuals may be able to recall with greater ease.
Many educators rely on music to help students with matters of memory and recall. There are songs associated with memorizing the books of the New Testament, the countries in Europe, Chinese dynasties, musical notes, and much more. Medical researchers have found that people with mild cognitive impairment may demonstrate better recall ability with the help of music.
Recite and Repetition
Repeatedly reciting information has long been a form of memory training. Students have used this technique to memorize paragraphs of the U.S. Constitution, verses of poetry, and former Presidents. While this technique has fallen in and out of favor with educators, many classrooms around the world continue to employ it to some extent.
Many researchers believe creating a mental picture of information can support memory and recall. According to them, visualization occurs in a different part of the brain than verbal processing. So, if someone is attempting to remember a verse, they’re using one part of their brain. However, if they’ve created a mental image to go along with that information, it’s going to be stored elsewhere in the brain. In other words, the brain has two places from which it can recall this information.
Write It Down
Scientists believe the act of writing information down on paper helps individuals recall that information later. Writing may assist memory recall better than typing the same information. According to researchers, the act of writing stimulates the cells near your brain’s base. When engaged, this area of the brain prompts closer focus on what is happening.
Eat, Sleep, Exercise
Researchers have found people perform better at memory-based tasks when they eat well, get an optimum amount of sleep, and engage in daily exercise. The quality of these lifestyle activities can enhance or detract from memory. For instance, when people fail to get enough sleep at night, they likely note a reduction in their cognitive abilities. They might find it difficult to focus or recall certain information easily. Before engaging in other types of memory training, ensure these practices are in peak form to get the most out of your cognitive function.