What Is the Method of Loci?

The method of loci is a strategy for memorizing new information. It involves imagining yourself placing pieces of information around a room and then visualizing yourself walking back through to pick the information up. (The word loci is the plural form of locus, which means "location.")

Among its many uses, this method of memorization is beneficial for speech preparation because it helps you recall all of your points in order. The method of loci is one a several mnemonic devices, or memory strategies that use information you already know to help you retain new information.

This article explains the method of loci, its effectiveness, and who might benefit from the strategy.

Woman giving a speech at a conference

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How Does the Method of Loci Work?

The method of loci works by giving your brain new information in order and grounding your memory of it to different points in a familiar setting that you can easily navigate in your mind.

This new information can be something tangible, like an object, but it can also be a term, a concept, or anything else you need to recall.

To use the method of loci:

  • First, imagine yourself "placing" what you need to remember around the room (one thing per area).
  • Then, visualize yourself walking back through the room.
  • Finally, see yourself picking up each item in the order you "set it down."


For instance, if you are trying to memorize a recipe for banana bread, you might imagine placing bananas on the couch, sugar next to the lamp, milk on the piano bench, and so on. Then, in your mind, you'll go back around the room and pick up the bananas, sugar, and milk in the order you placed them.

You could also imagine setting items at specific landmarks on a nature trail or a neighborhood walk.

By imaging yourself placing things around a room then collecting those items in the same order, you train your brain to remember things sequentially.

The method of loci works similarly to other mnemonic strategies, including using acronyms, music, and rhymes to remember information.

How Effective Is It?

The method of loci is a very effective learning method. Several studies have demonstrated a significant improvement in recalling information in various groups who use it.

Perhaps most interesting is a 2017 study published in Neuron in which researchers, as part of their work, compared the memory of participants using mnemonic strategies with that of so-called "memory athletes." These are people who actually compete in memorization competitions.

Subjects who underwent six weeks of training in mnemonic methods, including the method of loci, demonstrated improved memory performance. In addition, researchers observed actual changes in brain functioning and connectivity on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) exams. Patterns resembled those of the memory athletes.

The improvements in memory were observable for as long as four months following the conclusion of the training.

In Older Adults

Studies indicated that the method of loci was too challenging for older adults because it requires a high level of attention. With this in mind, a researchers behind a 2014 study published in Experimental Aging Research evaluated whether training in the method could help older adults use the technique and improve their memory.

They found that 25% of participants in the study continued to use the method of loci after receiving training in it. In addition, those who used it had immediate memory improvement and sustained memory improvement through the five-year follow-up period.

In Students

A 2015 study published in Society for the Teaching of Psychology asked undergraduate students to create "memory palaces" based on campus locations to remember a grocery list.

The researchers found that participants had improved memory for the serial recalled list. In addition, they increased their use of the method of loci in their daily life, suggesting they found it helped them retain information.

Another study tested a variation of the method of loci by showing students a virtual environment that they briefly reviewed. Participants then used locations in that new environment, rather than a more familiar place such as a room in their home, to mentally place the items they needed to remember.

The researchers found that participants using the new virtual environment performed just as well as a group who used a very familiar location to mentally place the information they needed to remember.

Benefits of the Method of Loci

The method of loci is beneficial for anyone who wants to improve their memory, especially sequential memory. In addition, the strategy holds promise for people with memory-related diseases.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that sometimes, but not always, progresses to Alzheimer's disease. Some research has demonstrated that using mnemonic techniques, including the method of loci, for people with MCI is effective in improving their ability to learn and remember information.

In a 2012 study published in the Hong Kong Journal of Occupational Therapy, researchers evaluated the effect of memory encoding strategies on older participants with MCI. Following the 10-week program, participants had improved memory and other cognitive functions.

One of the likely reasons that the method of loci is effective is that it uses elaborative rehearsal rather than simple rote rehearsal. Elaborative rehearsal involves connecting information you already know with new information.

This type of rehearsal is more complex than rote rehearsal, also called maintenance rehearsal (e.g., looking at a list and repeating it until you've memorized it.)

Summary

The method of loci is a mnemonic memory strategy to help people remember new information in sequential order. The technique involves imagining yourself placing new information around a room and then visualizing going back and picking it up in the order you put it down.

Researchers have studied the method of loci and found it effective in people of all ages, including older adults. In older people with MCI, it improves their ability to learn and remember new information.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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