What is it about?

This study looked at methods for quickly memorizing large blocks of information using a story-based method similar to an ancient technique used by Australian Aboriginal peoples. We compared this method to another technique called the "memory palace" which has been used in Western societies since the time of Ancient Greece. These tools were used by undergraduate and medical students to accurately recall complex information, and both techniques were shown to be relatively easy to learn and use in a short period of time. We showed that both techniques were better than rote memorization, though it was difficult to resolve between the two memory methods. The Aboriginal technique resulted in fewer errors when the precise sequence of information was important, and students who used this technique were also more likely to perfectly remember a list of 20 items when they didn't achieve a perfect score prior to learning the method. Overall, we showed that memory techniques that are based on location, whether real or imaginary, are very effective for improving recall in university students.

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Why is it important?

This work is important both for its educational value- students often need to quickly learn and recall large amounts of information; and for its cultural value- we showed that despite large differences across history and location, many groups of people have developed memory aids that take advantage of the fact that the human brain is very good at remembering where things are, even if the location is completely imagined. It also shows that memory is better when information is associated with a story, which is a key part of the Aboriginal memory method.


Almost everyone has experienced forgetting important information, and many people blame this experience on a "poor memory". In fact, most healthy people have exceptionally good memories, and like any other skill, memory improves quickly with the use of specific techniques, and with practice. Cultures around the world and throughout history have developed methods to improve memory that take advantage of the brain's ability to remember positions in space, and these techniques can be learned quickly and effectively, though they do require practice to maintain the information.

David Reser
Monash University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Australian Aboriginal techniques for memorization: Translation into a medical and allied health education setting, PLoS ONE, May 2021, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251710.
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