Your memory is what you make of it

Joshua Foer at TED 2012.

Ever wondered why it's so difficult to remember where your keys are, yet Lady Gaga songs repeat constantly in your head? Ever struggled to match names to faces? Science journalist Joshua Foer asked the same questions. Along the way, he made American memory champion – and TED speaker.

Last year, Joshua Foer published Moonwalking with Einstein, a book describing his discovery of the world of ‘memory athletes’.

Human beings have both short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory is used to ‘temporarily’ store certain things (say, a couple of items on a shopping list or the main argument of the blog post you’re reading now) and can generally contain between five and nine items. To save longer term memories, your brain makes neurone connections. These connections get stronger through repetition: the more often you are confronted with certain knowledge or an image, the better you’ll remember it. That is why advertisers and politicians keep repeating the same message.

So, how do you train your memory? The key is creating a ‘memory palace’, to create a building in your mind that stores the items you want to remember. That basically means you take a mental walk in a space you know well and place images of everything you want to remember along your way. Our mind is amazingly well equipped for visualisation and that seems to be the key to memorisation.

For instance, let's say you want to remember you want to buy forks. If you think of a regular fork on your kitchen table, there is a good chance you’ll forget. But if you imagine a three-meter high fork with flames coming out of them on which Lady Gaga is roasting a giant purple cow, you probably will remember the image. By placing such crazy images on your walk across your house, with a bit of training you can remember way more things than the average seven items. But for the real thing, let’s see how Joshua Foer explains it in detail during TED 2012.

[embed width=420 height=240]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6PoUg7jXsA[/embed]

By Jasper Bergink