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Doctors examine the brain activity of masters of memory sports
There are certain people, so-called memory athletes, who can remember an incredible amount of information in a short time. Such people, for example, are able to remember the order of a complete deck of cards in less than twenty seconds. Researchers are now investigating whether normal people with the right training are also capable of such performances.
Scientists at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University in the Netherlands found in an investigation that the brains of the best memory athletes are no different from the brains of normal people. This could mean that every person with the right training is capable of exceptional memory. The doctors published the results of their study in the medical journal "Neuron".
Experts are looking for differences in brain activity
"We were particularly interested in how so-called masters of memory differ from normal people," explains author Dr. Martin Dresler from Radboud University. Are there measurable changes in the brain of such memory athletes? To find out, the experts examined around two dozen masters in memory sports. These 23 people were among the top 50 memory athletes around the world. There are nowhere people who can remember more information, adds Dr. Dresler added.
Researchers are doing brain MRI scans
The scientists performed MRI scans of the brains of the memory athletes. In addition, they also examined the brains of 23 normal subjects. These participants were adapted to the memory athletes in their age, gender and even IQ. When the doctors compared the brain scans, they found no significant differences. This result was a bit surprising, says Dr. Dresler.
Parts of the brain are active in harmony with memory athletes
When doctors performed functional MRI scans that measure brain activity using the blood supply to certain areas, they noticed a subtle difference. When the memory athletes were asked to recite a list of previously memorized words, some parts of the brain were consistently active, the authors say. There were 25 connections among the different parts of the brain that seemed to be particularly important. The scientists did not find this type of uniform activity in the brains of the regular participants.
Memory athletes train their brains using special methods
Parts and areas of spatial learning related to memory seemed to interact a lot with the memory athletes. This statement makes sense if you look at the methods by which memory athletes remember large amounts of information, the scientists explain. They are not born with extraordinary memory skills, but all learn in the same way to develop seemingly supernatural memory.
World record holder uses his visual memory
Boris Nikolai Konrad, one of the authors of the study, holds the world record for memorizing faces and names. He is able to remember 201 people in 15 minutes. The researcher started memory training as a kind of high school hobby after watching the memory championships on TV. "I use my visual memory when I try to remember someone," explains Konrad. For example, if this person is called Müller, imagine that person looking at a mill.
Store sequences by the memory palace training method
So-called memory palaces are built for more abstract memory challenges, such as memorizing the exact sequence of hundreds of digits. This method has been known since the ancient Greeks. It works by remembering a specific building or location, the researchers explain. This is very familiar to the memory athletes and those affected create a spiritual path through this building, so to speak. The first building I used for this method was my parents' house. When I was still in high school and started training, I lived with my parents in this house, explains Konrad.
How does the memory palace training method work?
“I started to remember an order of walking through the house. The path started in my room. The first place would be my bed, the second the shelf above my bed, then the desk, the computer on the desk, the window, the mirror and so on, ”explains the expert. In order to remember abstract information, such as a list of numbers, he would translate numbers into pictures and then distribute them mentally through his house, adds Konrad.
Memory athletes convert pairs of numbers into images
For example, if he should remember the number 1202, Konrad converted the number pairs into pictures. For this he uses the so-called major system. For the scientist, the combination 1 and 2 stands for a dinosaur, for example. So I would put a dinosaur on my bed, this picture is strange and therefore easy to remember, explains Konrad. 0 and 2 would be a sun, so I would imagine a sun shining over my bed, the researcher adds. The scientist would then go on and on to remember all the numbers.
Other subjects were divided into three groups for training
In a second part of the study, the doctors recruited 51 university students. A third of these participants started the so-called Memorial Palace training for a period of six weeks. The exercises were conducted personally by Konrad once a week, and the subjects also trained at home on their computers for half an hour a day, the scientists explain. The second group of participants did a different kind of memory training, the last group didn't do any special kind of exercises, the authors say.
After completing the training, participants should memorize a list of words
After the six weeks, the subjects were taken to a laboratory and asked to remember a list of words. The researchers used functional MRI devices to scan the brains in different states. This happened while they were resting and again when they recited the list of words.
Memory palace training changed the brain activity of the participants
The brain activity of the participants changed in the group that had carried out the memory palace training, similar to the masters of memorizing. These differences were observed both in the idle state and in the enumeration of the objects or numbers noted, the doctors explain. Four months after their training, the volunteers came back to the laboratory and were given a new list to memorize.
Memory palace training leads to the best results
Users of the so-called memory palace training method achieved really good results compared to the other participants. In addition, the areas in the brains of these subjects were still connected in a new way, report Dr. Dresler and colleagues. (as)