Method of Loci on Naive Subjects: Pilot Study

For my Laidlaw 2021 summer, I worked on a pilot study testing naive subjects on a memorization technique called the method of loci. This technique uses a spatial cognitive map to memorize items that will be later recalled. I also tested to see if this technique can transfer to academic content.

The method of loci, or memory palace, is a memorization technique created in ancient Greece that helped scholars with rhetoric. Contestants in memory competitions are able to memorize a list or series of random words or numbers in a matter of minutes because of intensive training in the method of loci. The technique binds items, or things to be memorized, to loci, or anchors located in the memory palace. At retrieval, one can walk through their memory palace to recall the items. A pilot study was conducted to train four naive subjects to use the method of loci to remember 40 words. The main goal was to see if the training would work for a future fMRI study. Participants completed a 6-week training of the method of loci, with three rounds of memory tests administered every two weeks. The data from this pilot study showed that participant performance improved within the first two weeks of training and continued to perform well. Participants also completed daily practices for 20 days during training. Performance was at ceiling, but there was no overall improvement over time. A generalization task was added after the pilot study to test if the method of loci trained to remember words can also be transferred to more practical content. In the task, participants were asked to memorize 20 landmark supreme court cases. The data revealed that the participants were able to successfully remember the material well using the method of loci, although further research is required to draw conclusions. Through exploring the method of loci, insights into how memorization and cognitive maps work can be brought to light.