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Method of loci

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This article is about the memorization technique. For other uses, see Locus.
"Memory palace" redirects here. For the podcast, see The Memory Palace.

Cicero discussed the method of loci in his De Oratore.

The method of loci (loci being Latin for "places") is a method of memory enhancement which uses
visualizations with the use of spatial memory, familiar information about one's environment, to
quickly and efficiently recall information. The method of loci is also known as the memory
journey, memory palace, or mind palace technique. This method is a mnemonic device adopted
in ancient Roman and Greekrhetorical treatises (in the anonymous Rhetorica ad
Herennium, Cicero's De Oratore, and Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria). Many memory
contest champions claim to use this technique to recall faces, digits, and lists of words.
The term is most often found in specialised works on psychology, neurobiology, and memory,
though it was used in the same general way at least as early as the first half of the nineteenth
century in works on rhetoric, logic, and philosophy.[1] John O'Keefe and Lynn Nadel refer to:
'the method of loci', an imaginal technique known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and described
by Yates (1966) in her book The Art of Memory as well as by Luria (1969). In this technique the
subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any
geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a
set of items the subject 'walks' through these loci in their imagination and commits an item to each
one by forming an image between the item and any feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is
achieved by 'walking' through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items. The efficacy
of this technique has been well established (Ross and Lawrence 1968, Crovitz 1969, 1971, Briggs,
Hawkins and Crovitz 1970, Lea 1975), as is the minimal interference seen with its use.[2]
The items to be remembered in this mnemonic system are mentally associated with specific physical
locations.[3] The method relies on memorized spatial relationships to establish order and recollect
memorial content. It is also known as the "Journey Method", used for storing lists of related items, or
the "Roman Room" technique, which is most effective for storing unrelated information.[4]

 1Contemporary usage
 2Method
 3Applicability of the term
 4Spatial mnemonics and specific brain activation
 5Fictional portrayals
 6Notes
 7References

Contemporary usage[edit]
Many effective memorisers today use the "method of loci" to some degree. Contemporary memory
competition, in particular the World Memory Championship, was initiated in 1991 and the first United
States championship was held in 1997.[5] Part of the competition requires committing to memory and
recalling a sequence of digits, two-digit numbers, alphabetic letters, or playing cards. In a simple
method of doing this, contestants, using various strategies well before competing, commit to long-
term memory a unique vivid image associated with each item. They have also committed to long-
term memory a familiar route with firmly established stop-points or loci. Then in the competition they
need only deposit the image that they have associated with each item at the loci. To recall, they
retrace the route, "stop" at each locus, and "observe" the image. They then translate this back to the
associated item. For example, Ed Cooke, a World Memory Champion Competitor, describes to Josh
Foer in his book Moonwalking with Einstein how he uses the method of loci. First, he describes a
very familiar location where he can clearly remember many different smaller locations like his sink in
his childhood home or his dog's bed. Cooke also advises that the more outlandish and vulgar the
symbol used to memorize the material, the more likely it will stick.
Memory champions elaborate on this by combining images. Eight-time World Memory
Champion Dominic O'Brien uses this technique.[6][7] The 2006 World Memory Champion, Clemens
Mayer, used a 300-point-long journey through his house for his world record in "number half
marathon", memorising 1040 random digits in a half-hour. Gary Shang has used the method of loci
to memorise pi to over 65,536 (216) digits.[8]
Using this technique a person with ordinary memorisation capabilities, after establishing the route
stop-points and committing the associated images to long-term memory, with some practice, can
remember the sequence of a shuffled deck of cards.[citation needed] The world record for this is held by
Simon Reinhard at 21.19 seconds.[9]
The technique is taught as a metacognitive technique in learning-to-learn courses.[10] It is generally
applied to encoding the key ideas of a subject. Two approaches are:

1. Link the key ideas of a subject and then deep-learn those key ideas in relation to each other,
2. Think through the key ideas of a subject in depth, re-arrange the ideas in relation to an
argument, then link the ideas to loci in good order.
The method of loci has also been shown to help sufferers of depression remember positive, self-
affirming memories.[11]
A study at the University of Maryland evaluated participants ability to accurately recall two sets of
familiar faces, using a traditional desktop, and with a head-mounted display. The study was
designed to leverage the method of loci technique, with virtual environments resembling memory
palaces. The study found an 8.8% recall improvement in favor of the head-mounted display, in part
due to participants being able to leverage their vestibular and proprioceptive sensations.[12]

The Rhetorica ad Herennium and most other sources recommend that the method of loci should be
integrated with elaborative encoding (i.e., adding visual, auditory, or other details) to strengthen
memory.[13][14] However, due to the strength of spatial memory, simply mentally placing objects in real
or imagined locations without further elaboration can be effective for simple associations.
A variation of the "method of loci" involves creating imaginary locations (houses, palaces, roads, and
cities) to which the same procedure is applied. It is accepted that there is a greater cost involved in
the initial setup, but thereafter the performance is in line with the standard loci method. The
purported advantage is to create towns and cities that each represent a topic or an area of study,
thus offering an efficient filing of the information and an easy path for the regular review necessary
for long term memory storage.[15][16]
Something that is likely a reference to the "method of loci" techniques survives to this day in the
common English phrases "in the first place", "in the second place", and so forth.[17][18]
The technique is also used for second language vocabulary learning, as polyglot Timothy
Doner described in his 2014 TED talk.[19]

Applicability of the term[edit]

The designation is not used with strict consistency. In some cases it refers broadly to what is
otherwise known as the art of memory, the origins of which are related, according to tradition, in the
story of Simonides of Ceos and the collapsing banquet hall.[20] For example, after relating the story of
how Simonides relied on remembered seating arrangements to call to mind the faces of recently
deceased guests, Stephen M. Kosslyn remarks "[t]his insight led to the development of a technique
the Greeks called the method of loci, which is a systematic way of improving one's memory by using
imagery."[21] Skoyles and Sagan indicate that "an ancient technique of memorization called Method of
Loci, by which memories are referenced directly onto spatial maps" originated with the story of
Simonides.[22] Referring to mnemonic methods, Verlee Williams mentions, "One such strategy is the
'loci' method, which was developed by Simonides, a Greek poet of the fifth and sixth centuries
BC."[23] Loftus cites the foundation story of Simonides (more or less taken from Frances Yates) and
describes some of the most basic aspects of the use of space in the art of memory. She states, "This
particular mnemonic technique has come to be called the "method of loci".[24] While place or position
certainly figured prominently in ancient mnemonic techniques, no designation equivalent to "method
of loci" was used exclusively to refer to mnemonic schemes relying upon space for organization.[25]
In other cases the designation is generally consistent, but more specific: "The Method of Loci is a
Mnemonic Device involving the creation of a Visual Map of one's house."[26]
This term can be misleading: the ancient principles and techniques of the art of memory, hastily
glossed in some of the works, cited above, depended equally upon images andplaces. The
designator "method of loci" does not convey the equal weight placed on both elements. Training in
the art or arts of memory as a whole, as attested in classical antiquity, was far more inclusive and
comprehensive in the treatment of this subject.

Spatial mnemonics and specific brain activation[edit]

Brain scans of "superior memorizers", 90% of whom use the method of loci technique, have shown
that it involves activation of regions of the brain involved in spatial awareness, such as the medial
parietal cortex, retrosplenial cortex, and the right posterior hippocampus.[27][28] The medial parietal
cortex is most associated with encoding and retrieving of information. Patients who have medial
parietal cortex damage have trouble linking landmarks with certain locations; many of these patients
are unable to give or follow directions and often get lost. The retrosplenial cortex is also linked to
memory and navigation. In one study on the effects of selective granular retrosplenial cortex lesions
in rats, the researcher found that damage to the retrosplenial cortex led to impaired spatial learning
abilities. Rats with damage to this area failed to recall which areas of the maze they had already
visited, rarely explored different arms of the maze, almost never recalled the maze in future trials,
and took longer to reach the end of the maze, as compared to rats with a fully working retrosplenial
In a classic study in cognitive neuroscience, O'Keefe and Nadel proposed "that the hippocampus is
the core of a neural memory system providing an objective spatial framework within which the items
and events of an organism's experience are located and interrelated." This theory has generated
considerable debate and further experiment. It has been noted that "[t]he hippocampus underpins
our ability to navigate, to form and recollect memories, and to imagine future experiences. How
activity across millions of hippocampal neurons supports these functions is a fundamental question
in neuroscience, wherein the size, sparseness, and organization of the hippocampal neural code are
In a more recent study, memory champions during resting periods did not exhibit specific regional
brain differences, but distributed functional brain network connectivity changes compared to control
subjects. When volunteers trained use of the method of loci for six weeks, the training-induced
changes in brain connectivity were similar to the brain network organization that distinguished
memory champions from controls.[30]

Fictional portrayals[edit]
Fictional portrayals of the method of loci extend as far back as ancient Greek myths. The method of
loci also features prominently in the BBC series Sherlock, in which the titular main character uses a
"mind palace" to store information. In the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock
Holmes referred to his brain as an attic.[31] In Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris, a detailed
description of Hannibal Lecter's memory palace is provided.[32][33]

1. ^ e.g. in a discussion of "topical memory" (yet another designator) Jamieson mentions that "memorial
lines, or verses, are more useful than the method of loci." Alexander Jamieson, A Grammar of Logic
and Intellectual Philosophy, A. H. Maltby, 1835, p112
2. ^ O'Keefe, John; Nadel, Lynn (December 7, 1978). The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map'.
Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198572060.
3. ^ Carlson, Neil R. (2010). Psychology the science of behaviour. Pearson Canada Inc.
p. 245. ISBN 9780205645244.
4. ^ "The Roman Room Technique". Retrieved October 24, 2013.
5. ^ Foer, Joshua (March 16, 2005). "Forget Me Not: How to win the U.S. memory championship". Slate.
Retrieved October 24, 2013.
6. ^ "1997 World Memory Championships". Mind Sports Worldwide. Archived from the original on May
14, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
7. ^ "Memory Town System for Languages - Memory Techniques Wiki".
8. ^ Raz, A.; Packard, M. G.; Alexander, G. M.; Buhle, J. T.; Zhu, H.; Yu, S.; Peterson, B. S. (2009). "A
slice of π : An exploratory neuroimaging study of digit encoding and retrieval in a superior
memorist". Neurocase. 15 (5): 361–
372. doi:10.1080/13554790902776896. PMC 4323087. PMID 19585350.
9. ^ "5 Minute Speed Cards". World Memory Statistics. World Memory Sports Council.
Retrieved October 24, 2013.
10. ^ "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects -
Coursera". Coursera.
11. ^ Dalgleish, Tim; Navrady, Lauren; Bird, Elinor; Hill, Emma; Dunn, Barnaby D.; Golden, Ann-Marie (12
February 2013). "Method-of-Loci as a Mnemonic Device to Facilitate Access to Self-Affirming
Personal Memories for Individuals With Depression". Clinical Psychological Science. 1 (2): 156–
162. doi:10.1177/2167702612468111.
12. ^ Krokos, Eric; Plaisant, Catherine; Varshney, Amitabh (16 May 2018). "Virtual Memory Palaces:
Immersion Aids Recall": 1–15. doi:10.1007/s10055-018-0346-3.
13. ^ Galinsky, Douglas Boin/Karl. "Rhetorica ad Herennium Passages on Memory".
14. ^ "Quintilian on Memory - Art of Memory Blog". 25 November 2010.
15. ^ Bremer, Rod (September 20, 2011). The Manual - A guide to the Ultimate Study Method (USM).
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Fons Sapientiae Publishing. ISBN 978-0956990709.
16. ^ "New Project: Use Memory Techniques to Learn Brazilian Portuguese - Art of Memory
Blog". 18 December 2010.
17. ^ Finger, Stanley (October 11, 2001). Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations Into Brain
Function. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 333. ISBN 978-0195146943.
18. ^ ""In the First Place, in the Second Place" - Art of Memory Blog". 12 January
19. ^ Donor, Timothy. "Breaking the language barrier". Retrieved 19 February 2015.
20. ^ Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, University of Chicago, 1966, p1-2
21. ^ Stephen M. Kosslyn, "Imagery in Learning" in: Michael S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), Perspectives in Memory
Research, MIT Press, 1988, p245; it should be noted that Kosslyn fails to cite any example of the use
of an equivalent term in period Greek or Latin sources.
22. ^ John Robert Skoyles, Dorion Sagan, Up From Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence,
McGraw-Hill, 2002, p150
23. ^ Linda Verlee Williams, Teaching For The Two-Sided Mind: A Guide to Right Brain/Left Brain
Education, Simon & Schuster, 1986, p110
24. ^ Elizabeth F. Loftus, Human Memory: The Processing of Information, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
1976, p65
25. ^ For example, Aristotle referred to topoi (places) in which memorial content could be aggregated -
hence our modern term "topics", while another primary classical source, Rhetorica ad Herennium (Bk
III) discusses rules for places and images. In general Classical and Medieval sources describe these
techniques as the art or arts of memory (ars memorativa or artes memorativae), rather than as any
putative "method of loci". Nor is the imprecise designation current in specialized historical studies, for
example Mary Carruthers uses the term "architectural mnemonic" to describe what is otherwise
designated "method of loci".
26. ^ Gutman, Sharon A. (December 1, 2007). Quick Reference Neuroscience For Rehabilitation
Professionals. Thorofare, New Jersey: SLACK Incorporated. p. 216. ISBN 978-1556428005.
27. ^ Maguire, E. A.; Valentine, E. R.; Wilding, J. M.; Kapur, N. (2002). "Routes to remembering: The
brains behind superior memory". Nature Neuroscience. 6 (1): 90–
95. doi:10.1038/nn988. PMID 12483214.
28. ^ Parasuraman, Raja; Rizzo, Matthew (February 13, 2008). Neuroergonomics. New York: Oxford
University Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0195368659.
29. ^ Hassabis, D.; Chu, C.; Rees, G.; Weiskopf, N.; Molyneux, P. D.; Maguire, E. A. (2009). "Decoding
Neuronal Ensembles in the Human Hippocampus". Current Biology. 19 (7): 546–
554. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.02.033. PMC 2670980. PMID 19285400.
30. ^ Dresler, M.; Shirer, W. R.; Konrad, B. N.; Wagner, I. C.; Fernández, F.; Czisch, M.; Greicius, M. D.
(2017). "Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory". Neuron. 93 (5):
1227–1235. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.003. PMC 5439266. PMID 28279356.
31. ^ Zielinski, Sarah. "The Secrets of Sherlock's Mind Palace". Smithsonian. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
32. ^ Harris, Thomas (2006). Hannibal Rising. United States: Delacorte Press. pp. 1–2, 167, 178–
179. ISBN 0385339410.
33. ^ Martinez-Conde, Susana (April 26, 2013). "Neuroscience in Fiction: Hannibal Lecter's Memory
Palace". Scientific American.

 Yates, Frances A. (1966). The Art of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press. ISBN 0226950018.
 Brown, Derren (2007). Tricks of the Mind. London: Transworld publishers.
 Spence, Jonathan D. (1984). The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. New York: Viking
Penguin. ISBN 0-14-008098-8.
 Carruthers, Mary (1990). The Book of Memory. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521716314.
 Carruthers, Mary (1998). The Craft of Thought. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521795419.
 Rossi, Paolo (2000). Logic and the Art of Memory. University of Chicago
Press. ISBN 0226728269.
 Bolzoni, Lina (2001). The Gallery of Memory. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802043305.
 Bolzoni, Lina (2004). The Web of Images. Ashgate Publishers. ISBN 0754605515.
 Dudai, Yadin (2002). Memory from A to Z. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198520875.
 Small, Jocelyn P. (1997). Wax Tablets of the Mind. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415149835.
 Carruthers, Mary; Ziolkowski, Jan (2002). The Medieval Craft of Memory: An anthology of texts
and pictures. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812218817.
 Dann, Jack (1995) The Memory Cathedral: A Secret History of Leonardo da Vinci: Bantam
Books 0553378570
 Foer, Joshua (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering
Everything. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-59420-229-2.
 Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory, Neuron, 8 March
 Lyndon, Donlyn; Moore, Charles W. (1994). Chambers for a Memory Palace. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: The MIT Press.