Anyone can teach themselves to have a memory the size of a champion, a study shows. Scans found ordinary members of the public had brains as sharp as the world's greatest memorisers after a simple brain training course using'memory palaces'. It means the ability to perform astonishing feats - such as remembering lists of several dozen words - can be learned, say scientists. After 40 days of daily 30-minute training sessions individuals who had typical memory skills at the start and no previous practise more than doubled their capacity. In this study, the learning strategy scientists chose was loci training, also known as creating a'memory palace'.
The making of a memory champion, it turns out, is not so different from the making of any other great athlete. To triumph in sport, athletes sculpt muscle and sinew and lash them together with head and heart to deliver optimum performance. To perform extraordinary feats of memorization, memory champions strengthen distinct groups of structures scattered throughout the brain. And then, they groove the connections that lash those groups together until the whole system works like a well-oiled machine. In short, memory champions are not born that way.
Becoming a memory champion is easier than you think. The techniques mnemonists use to memorise hundreds of words or digits in minutes can be learned by anyone, a study suggests. After just six weeks' training, participants more than doubled their performance in a memory test, and scans showed their brains were functioning more like those of competitive memorisers. Memory athletes compete to memorise huge strings of information, such as decks of cards or digits of pi. To investigate what enables them to do it, Martin Dresler at Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands recruited 23 of the world's top 50 memory athletes.
Top athletes and racing drivers think faster and more accurately than the average person when under pressure, research has shown. A study found that their memory performance was 20 per cent better and the speed of their mental processing was 10 per cent more rapid. The aim was to test the theory that because of their training elite competitors have an enhanced ability to handle intense situations and emotions. Taking part in the study were British champion downhill skater Peter Connolly, leading climber Louis Parkinson, multiple Isle of Man TT winner John McGuinness, big wave surfer Andrew Cotton, two-time British Touring Car champion Colin Turkington and Le Mans racing driver Oliver Webb. Their performance in a series of tests each lasting up to an hour was compared with that of six volunteers who had no special training in competitive sport.
I started training my memory to help with college exams. A few years later, in 2003, I became a memory athlete. During one type of event, you stare at a list of digits for an hour, then over the next two hours, you write down every one you can recall, in order. Most pros turn digits into a mental image--a 3 might become a billboard--then stick it in a known location, a method known as a Memory Palace. You might start out with only a few familiar sites, but you can gather more.