Ancient Greek poet's ‘loci’ technique doubles memory ability in 6 weeks

Ancient Greek poet's ‘loci’ technique doubles memory ability in 6 weeks

Ancient Greek poet's ‘loci’ technique doubles memory ability in 6 weeks
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We interview World Memory Champion Dr Boris Konrad, whose groundbreaking research shows how average people can more than d

ouble their memory in just six weeks by practising creative visualisation techniques

Over 2000 years ago, the Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos came up with a visual memory technique that a recent study has proved can massively improve the memory of average people and even rewire how the brain works.

Dr Boris Konrad, who ranks 24th in the World Memory Championships and a neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, teamed up with neuroscience Martin Dresler at Radboud University, in the Netherlands and collaborated with Stanford University. First they tested the memory champions, asking them to recall a list of 72 random nouns in 20 minutes. On average, they scored nearly 71 of the 72 words. Next they asked a group of men in their 20s to do the same test and on average they recalled 35 words. A third of that test group was then asked to follow 30 minutes of memory training per day, based on the ‘loci’ technique for six weeks. The exercises proved to more than double their memory capacities and they could recall around 62 of the 72 words.

The research strongly indicates that through just half an hour of visualisation-based exercises using the imagination to picture an imaginary place in the mind, where images and information can be stored and then re accessed, physiological changes occur and even without further training, memory retention remained noteworthy.

Dr Boris Konrad, who led the research, spoke to Greek City Times to further explain the exciting research.

Alexia Amvrazi: How did the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos create the technique?  Was he the only one in his time to use the technique or did he teach it elsewhere?

Boris Konrad: Simonies of Ceos, who lived in 500BC, is the legendary founder of the method.  There isn’t much evidence from that period, but later ancient Greek and Latin texts show that back then these techniques were common knowledge amongst the educated people and heavily used. Nowadays the most well known users are memory champions - I also studied them.  Since I travel around the world as memory speaker to give lectures and have met many great thinkers who use mnemonics.

AA: You’ve noted that “it comes mostly down to hours of training and using the right mnemonic techniques,” how many hours? And what kind of mnemonic techniques?

BK: It’s not clear enough to answer how many hours are required for one to become a memory champion, but in our study we showed that after just six weeks of 30 minutes per day of memory training were enough to improve memory significantly -  participants on average more than doubled there memory. The mnemonic techniques are based on really walking through a place and then later visualising the location to place an object there. It also helps for the image to be vivid, bizarre and firmly placed in the location.

AA: Could this be a revolutionary method in preventing Alzheimer’s?

BK: Other scientists’ works show that the techniques help in every age if the brain is healthy. Using your brain and your memory is the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s. However, it remains a disease. Doing memory training will decrease the likelihood, but it does not guarantee your memory will stay sharp.

AA: How can ordinary people learn the technique? Would it require special one-on-one or guided training?

BK: One-on-one training is not needed. Sometimes in my speaking appointments worldwide I address several hundred people at once and that suffices for them to learn the basics about the techniques. To really benefit from them more training afterwards is necessary and people need to do that themselves.

AA: Are you planning to make it more accessible to the wider public?

BK: Yes, I already have. I wrote two books that have been published in German but will be released in further languages this year (I do not have a Greek publisher yet).  Also when giving memory lectures and trainings I of course bring in the scientific knowledge to help people even more. As the president of MemoryXL – The European Association of Memory Improvement, I also do a lot of unpaid volunteer work to help teachers and educators know more about it.

AA: Are you planning to create an App?

BK: No. But there are already two great ones:
In our study we used Memocamp by a German company. Our participants trained there. I nowadays train mostly on Memory League at app.memoryleague.com/?a=b

AA: How did you become a World Memory Champion?

BK: I started competing in memory competitions in 2003. Already after a short while I broke my first World Records in remembering names (he is in the Guinness Book of World Records for memorising 21 first names and birth dates within two minutes). With the German Team I went on to win the World Memory Team Championships several times. I still like to compete in memory tournaments.

Dr Boris Konrad’s Top 3 tips for GCT’s wannabe memory champs

  1. Use mnemonic techniques such as the method of loci. They do need some training, but are very worth it. They are all based on visual thinking and making associations with prior knowledge. This is why they work so well.
  1. Make use of the testing effect. That implies that after learning, you should always test yourself on what you learned. Even when you read this interview with me, afterwards just ask yourself: ‘What did I just read?’ ‘What can I learn from it?’ That will engrave it much deeper in memory.
  1. Enjoy memory and play with memory. Participate in memory sports. But also just sometimes make an effort to remember things instead of writing them down or store in your phone. Learn a few new words in a foreign language. A memory used, is a memory that will get better and stay working well longer in life.

*Image of Dr. Conrad by Bart van Dieken 

Alexia Amvrazi

Alexia Amvrazi enjoys the thrill of discovering beauty in the world around her. With a passionately hands-on approach to Greece's travel, gastronomy, holistic living, culture, innovation and creativity, for 20 years she has explored and shared her findings with the world on all aspects of the country and its people via writing, radio, blogs and videos. Although her childhood and early youth in Italy, Egypt and England left her feeling somewhat root-less, she is by now firmly connected to her native land, bravely weathering the hurricane known as the Greek crisis!

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