In Memento, Guy Pierce’s Leonard relies on an intricate system of Polaroids and tattoos to cope with anterograde amnesia. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes prefers the mind palace technique to organise his vast repository of knowledge. Moonwalking With Einstein explores many more methods of memory training endorsed by the world’s top ‘mental athletes’.
But according to a recent study conducted in Canada, an ultra effective memory trick may require neither Sherlock’s intellect nor Leonard’s fearlessness in the face of needles. It’s as simple as speaking to yourself out loud.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo asked 75 students say 160 words aloud and recorded them doing it. Two weeks later, the students returned to the lab and studied half of the words they’d encountered earlier in preparation for a memory test. They were instructed to review using four different strategies: reading the words to themselves silently, listening to a recording of someone else reciting the words, listening to the recording of themselves saying the words, and reading the words out loud to themselves.
Upon taking the recognition test, one revision method rose to the top of the heap: reading the words aloud.
On average, reading out loud led to 77 per cent correct answers. The second most effective method of review was listening to a recording in their own voice, followed by listening to a recording in someone else’s voice.
Researchers believe the advantage to reading out loud comes from both the act of reading and the experience of hearing oneself. They chalk it up to a phenomenon they call “the production effect”. The production effect gives memory an edge by combining motor processing (which makes it a more active process) with visual processing from reading (which may lead to deeper learning rather than mere superficial listening), while making it a self-referential experience (which makes the information more salient since you said it yourself).
Combine all three factors, and you have the recipe for a memory worthy of a great detective, Dr. House, or Dumbo.