Can We Acquire a Super Memory?

Posted on March 10, 2017

Photo: flickr

Elite memory athletes can memorise hundreds of binary digits without a hitch, while we may feel that we struggle after, say, the first ten. Are their brains different from ours?

Research shows that yes, their brains are indeed different from ours, but this does not make them superhuman. Many of these athletes have perfected memorisation techniques that help them to achieve the seemingly impossible. There is now concrete evidence to prove that most laymen can train themselves, and subsequently their brains, to apply these same memorisation techniques, and thus effectively rewire their brains.

Martin Dresler’s research team at Radboud University found that the brains of memory athletes have different connection pathways as compared to the brains of people who have never undergone memory training. However, subjects who underwent several weeks of memory training began to show changes in their neural pathways; these pathways began to shift and started to resemble those of the elite memory athletes.

Just as a well-known study found that taxi drivers accumulated more grey matter in their hippocampi as they memorised more information about London’s streets, Dresler and his team wanted to know if these trained memory athletes would exhibit changes in their brains as a result of their training, as well as how these changes happen. MRI scans of both memory athletes and control subjects who have been matched based on gender and IQ – both when the groups were resting and when they were completing a memory task – showed that while there were no distinct differences in any regions of the brains of participants from both groups, there were subtler differences in neurological pathways and connections. The patterns of brain connectivity in brains of memory athletes were not the same as those of the control participants.

Dresler’s team then conducted another study with three groups of participants: 1) an experimental group that was given rigorous memory training for half an hour a day for six weeks 2) an active control group that was taught how to carry out the n-back, a memory task that does not focus on long-term memory and 3) a passive control group. The experimental group showed great improvements in their memory tasks, while the latter two exhibited no changes after those six weeks. It was then found that, like before, there were no large-scale changes to parts of their brains, but it was the wiring of their neural connections that began to change and resemble those of memory athletes.

What this means is that our brains have tremendous potential to grow, respond to changes and adapt accordingly. Not only were the experimental subjects able to improve their memory, but they have also shown that it is possible to mould our brains to make them work like those of the most accomplished memorisers in the world. Indeed, we are not so different from them after all.

Category(s):Academic Issues

Source material from Scientific American