If you've watched Sherlock even once, you've possibly attempted to remember your shopping list using a "mind palace"... Unsuccessfully we wager.
Well, neuroscientists at Radboud University say you can successfully train your memory.
The "mind palace" or "loci" technique, popularised by the show, traces its roots to Simonides of Ceos, and is commonly used by memory athletes - people who engage in memory competitions.
You try to memorise concepts by giving them a geographical location. The technique was supposedly devised after he fled a collapsing banquet hall.
He recalled whose indistinguishable remains were whose, based on their relative location to others in memories.
The technique seems to have some merit - the Radboud University study found that after 40 days, people's brain activity began to resemble those of memory champions.
Nils Muller, a co-author of the study, said:
One of the initial questions was whether memory athletes have very differently wired brains.
Do they have an innate gift that just can’t be taught?
When memory athletes were given 20 minutes to recall 72 random nouns, they recalled on average 71.
The average person in the control group recalled 26.
These people then followed a 30 minute daily training regimen, in which they remembered walking through a familiar place and placed objects in familiar places.
After 40 days, they recalled 62 words on average.
Four months after, without continuing training, they recalled 48.
Not only did the technique help, once they'd learned it they continued to score highly without continuing training.
Boris Konrad, a study co-author, neuroscientist, and memory athlete, said:
You really walk through a place and then later you visualise the location to place an object there.
You’re not just wandering around in your crazy mental palace.
You take material that is really hard to remember and transform it into something accessible.
It does not make your memory capacity bigger; you use a different form of memory that already has a large capacity.
Konrad said not everyone can become a memory champion, but:
Everyone using the technique can improve quite substantially from the level they’re at.
Cut-rate Sherlock, here we come.