This ancient memory technique may be better than the ‘memory palace’, study finds
There was a time when humans kept everything we knew in our heads. It may seem impossible in these days when the Internet is at hand, but for millennia it was our only way to impart knowledge.
Now, some researchers want to remind us that there is still room for ancient memory techniques to be taught in the modern world. And there is also more than one such technique.
In ancient Greece and Rome, people built mind maps with a technique known as the palace of memory or the loci method. As their minds wandered from room to room, scholars and clergy were able to recall facts and data that they had attached to certain features of the house, such as a rug, desk, or window.
Today, this Western technique is still used by medical students to cram an encyclopedia of knowledge into their brains, but a new study suggests that an even older memory “ code ” used by First Nations people from Australia might be a better choice for memorizing large amounts. of information.
Aboriginal Australians are part of the oldest living culture on the planet and, for over 60,000 years, their stories and knowledge have been passed down from generation to generation through songs and dreams.
These ancient stories, woven into works of art, songs or dances, are intimately linked to the landscape, allowing elders to remember crucial information regarding the seasons, sources of food, navigation, tool making. and the laws when they walk next to certain plants, animals or rocks.
The storytelling technique is remarkably similar to the ‘memory palace’, and the researchers behind the new document believe this ancient wisdom can be used in a ‘respectful and culturally safe’ way to help medical students and physicians. health professionals remember long lists of facts.
In their study, 76 undergraduate medical students in rural Australia were enrolled and split into three groups, all of which should memorize an identical list of 20 butterfly names. To begin with, all students had to try to memorize the list.
One of the groups then spent the next 30 minutes learning a storytelling-based memory technique from an experienced Australian Aboriginal educator. During this lesson, each member of the group walked around a garden and constructed a story connecting the name of each butterfly to something visible, such as a rock, plant, or concrete slab.
Students then practiced walking the story in their minds, recalling each item and name as they did in order. The band was then tested again.
Meanwhile, another group of students were trained for 30 minutes on the memory palace technique. Using this method, the group incorporated each butterfly name into a mental floor plan of their childhood home.
As a control, the pupils of the third group were asked to recall the names of the butterflies without any instruction.
Ultimately, both types of memory training made the list easier for students to remember than when they attempted it on their own. But the group who learned the Australian Aboriginal technique made far fewer mistakes than those who used the memory palace method.
After learning this ancient Indigenous technique, students were almost three times more likely to remember the entire list on their second test.
Those who learned the memory palace technique were twice as likely to achieve a perfect score after memory training. Meanwhile, the control group only improved about 50% on their second attempt.
“Student responses to learning the Australian Aboriginal memory technique in the context of biomedical science education have been overwhelmingly favorable, and students have found the training and technique enjoyable, interesting, and more useful than learning. memorization by rote, ”write the authors.
The results suggest that a storytelling-based memory technique is useful for studying biomedical sciences, especially when the order of the facts matters. Yet the technique only really works if the students keep practicing.
Six weeks later, when the same participants were asked to recall the butterfly list again, those who had been trained in the memory palace technique remembered the names of the butterflies more. During this time, the students who were trained in the Australian Aboriginal method scored equal to that of the untrained group.
The sample size is small, so it is difficult to over-read these results. Nonetheless, the authors suggest that the Australian Aboriginal method “requires sustained practice and repeated exposure” to the landscape to retain information for more than a day.
“This study reveals several subtle but important advantages for teaching the Australian Aborigines’ memorization method over the more well-known memory palace technique,” the researchers conclude.
“In particular, the Australian Aboriginal method appears to be better suited to teaching in a single, relatively short period of instruction.”
It all just goes to show that to preserve stories for millennia would require dedication and an extraordinarily close connection to the landscape.
The study was published in PLOS One.