Can you train your brain’s memory capacity? Yes, according to new research by a team of Dutch scientists.

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The team examined the brains of those partitioning in professional memory sports in which competitors memorize as much information as possible within a given timeframe, and compared their brains to ordinary people without any particular knowledge in memory training.

Worked up pathways

The study was performed at Stanford University, and the brain of 23 memory professionals was scanned with MRI. The researchers noticed a difference between how different areas of the brain interacted when the memory professionals rested and when ordinary people rested.

They did however not appear to have any specific areas of the brain that was larger than normal but they did have more worked up pathways in the brain. These neural pathways serve to connect relatively distant areas of the brain or nervous system and consists of bundles of neurons, known collectively as white matter.

The team then proceeded to ask the question; how easy it is to work up these neural pathways in the brain for ordinary people to achieve superior memory capacity?

The nonprofessionals were divided into different groups, and those who worked with a common memory technique ‘loci’ had the best memory capacity after four months.

They were tasked to learn 72 words from a list and at first, they remembered 26 words on average, but after practicing for half an hour every day for 40 days, the number rose to 62 out of 72 words.

The brains of those training also changed, with pathways of the brain changing to similar patterns as those seen in the professionals.

Memory palace

They trained with the famous memory technique called ‘loci’ – more commonly known as ‘memory palace’ – that has been in use since the ancient Greeks.

It is a method of memory enhancement that applies visualizations with the use of spatial memory, placing words in a physical landscape. The method converts abstract and difficult to access information into the memories that are easier to be processed in the brain.

The researchers conclude that, yes, it is possible to train our brains memory capacity. It does not require an extraordinary brain to improve memory, but it is primarily a collaboration between the different parts of the brain that is important.

The study has been published in the journal Neuron.


Dresler et al “Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory” 8 Mars 2017, Neuron 93, 1-9