Research and Application
This June 2017 news report from CNN shows school students as they prepare to participate in a US school Memory Championship. The Gifted and Enrichment Support teacher at the school discusses the importance of all students being taught these memory techniques. Her 11 year experience of teaching these techniques has found that student's focus improves, attention span increases, and academic grades are higher. She comments that the techniques are for students: who are challenged, gifted and everyone in between.
The report also shows Alex Mullen (World Memory Champion) memorising a deck of cards in under 15 seconds!!
The 2017 study by Dresler et al explored changes in neural network organisation following mnemonic training. Twenty-three of the world’s most successful memory athletes were used as the baseline to measure a range of fMRI readings (functional MRI’s - examining neural activity during the performance of tasks). The memory athlete group was compared with control groups that were matched for age, gender, intelligence and handedness.
Three interventions were conducted on what Dresler refers to as ‘naive’ controls: subjects who had no experience in memory training. One group were trained in the memory technique know as the ‘Journey Method’, a technique used by memory athletes. The second intervention (active control group) was a memory training approach called ’n-back’; and the ‘passive’ third group had no training. Control group participants participated in six weeks of training (40 x 30 minute sessions).
Functional connectivity was calculated among 71 regions of interest across six brain networks related to memory and visuospatial processing. Analysis of fMRI data from the ‘Journey Method’ group showed functional connectivity changes had occurred over the six weeks. The neuronal network organisation in this group showed significant correlations to neural networks that had previously distinguished memory athletes from the control group. Neither of the other two groups showed significant correlations.
As Dresler et al concluded, the findings in this research 'demonstrated that network organisation associated with superior memory can be achieved by mnemonic training.' Mnemonic strategies are shown to alter functional networks throughout the brain to improve memory performance.
The graph below displays the results of the word recall test used in this study.
Dresler, M., Shirer, W. R., Konrad B. N., Müller N. C. J., Wagner I. C., Fernández G., Czisch M., and Greicius M. D.. (2017). Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory. Neuron, 93(5), 1227–1235.