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Sherlock Holmes’ Mind Palace Is Real And It Works!

by Kareena Dodeja
Sherlock Holmes’ Mind Palace Is Real And It Works!

March 11, 2021

Sherlock Holmes has a talent for a mnemonic device straight out of ancient Greece - The Mind Palace. As Sherlock Fans we absolutely are in awe of the information he can pack into his head and draw out just the right details to make deductions while solving the most mysterious of mystery. Turns out, Sherlock's brain attic is a legit trick and we can master it too.

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The rooms you create work to help you remember sets of things by a method called “loci.”

Method Of Loci - Brings Back All The Memories!

Researchers from Netherlands, Austria, and Germany have found that that Sherlock Homes memory trick could actually work to create long-lasting memories. He uses a device that helps him remember things that is originated from Greece wherein he imagines he is storing bits of information in a ‘mind palace.’ The findings of the study were published in a journal ‘Science Advances.’

Imagine you are in an unfamiliar place or path and to remember it, you keep dropping a piece of information and to find out what you left, you can retrace those steps and pick it up. Holmes uses this mnemonic technique; it is called the ‘method of loci.’

The lead author of the study, Isabella Wagner is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Vienna. She said in an interview that they are fascinated to see extraordinary memory performances shown in World Memory Championships but now it is possible. The method of loci is also known as ‘scaffold’ or ‘structure.’ She added that the knowledge of a familiar route with the novel information is powerful to boost memory.

According to a study, this method has proven to be effective when you are trained under it. The best memory champions can remember lists, series, and cards because of this method. It might have its challenges as the World’s Memory Championships test only short-term memory.

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You too can use the ‘Mind Palace’ as a powerful tool. As The Mind Palace has little to do with intelligence, but more with the technique of using regions of the brain that deal with spatial learning.

The Mind Palace and The Experiment Of The Intelligent

To test if Ioci Method works, Isabella Wagner and her team conducted an experiment wherein 17 memory athletes who ranked in the world’s top 50 and 16 others who matched their intelligence participated in it. The participants were given to study random words while their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan was taken. They were asked to recall three words at a time from a list in the same order they studied.

In the second part of the study, 50 participants were part of it who had no experience in mnemonics. 17 of them were trained using the method of loci and rest were divided in control groups; 16 of them participated in active control where they were trained using the memory tactic called ‘working memory training.’ The rest 17 of them were passive controlled so they weren’t trained at all. They scanned the brains of the participants when they performed their tasks before and after the training. They were asked to recall the words in 20 minutes and 24 hours later of the scans.

The researchers defined those who have ‘weak memories’ can only remember the words after 20 minutes  and not after 24 hours. ‘Durable memories’ is defined when the participants could recall even after 24 hours. They retested the participant’s ability to memorise four months later as a follow-up.

Geek More : Can Science Help us Decode Deja Vu?

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Memory champions (like myself) use the memory palace to achieve superhuman feats.

Results Were Successful To Memorise

The participants showed that long-lasting memory after the training of the method of loci along with the memory technique is actually with higher success rates. The participants who tried with the ancient method showed a significant increase in durable memories but not with weak memories.

The researchers found that those who trained with loci method remembered 62 words of the list but whereas the ones trained in the other method could remember 41 words and who weren’t trained only remembered 36. After 24 hours, people trained under method of loci remembered 56 words and 30 and 21 respectively in the other control groups.

After four months, people trained through the method of loci could remember 50 words versus 50 and 27 words in other control groups, respectively. Memory champions and participants who were trained with method of loci showed a similar level of activity which was perplexing.

Surprise, Surprise Findings

What was unexpected is that when the world champions and participants performed the tasks, the activity in their brains declined in regions such as the memory processing and long-term memory. Wagner in an interview with Live Science mentioned it was surprising to them as better performance is associated with increased engagement in different brain regions.

She discovered that less brain activation led to better memory because of method of loci lets the brain work efficiently. When the participants training under method of loci rest, the brain connectivity increases as it helps with storing long-term memory. Wagner mentioned that anyone can learn using the method of loci; it just requires time and practice. This method could boost our memory performance as there is a noticeable change in the method of loci.

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The researchers have solely worked on remembering words so they don’t know how it would adapt with other situations. They are not sure if it could ease cognitive decline during aging, there are few questions answered. Wagner is excited about the prospects opened up because future studies could help answer our questions. 

Turns out we all can be Sherlock Holms after all! For now, “Get Out! I need to go back to my mind palace!”

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