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Effectiveness of the method of loci is only minimally related to factors that should influence imagined navigation

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method of loci, navigation, serial recall, verbal memory, mnemonics, virtual environments

Abstract (summary)

The method of loci is arguably the most famous mnemonic strategy and is highly effective for memorizing lists of non-spatial information in order. As described and instructed, this strategy apparently relies on a spatial/navigational metaphor. The user imagines moving through an environment, placing (study) and reporting (recall) list items along the way. However, whether the method relies critically on this spatial/navigation metaphor is unknown. An alternative hypothesis is that the navigation component is superfluous to memory success, and the method of loci is better viewed as a special case of a larger class of imagery-based peg strategies. Training participants on three virtual environments varying in their characteristics (an apartment, an open field, and a radial-arm maze), we asked participants to use each trained environment as the basis of the method of loci to learn five 11-word lists. Performance varied significantly across environment. However, the effects were small in magnitude. Further tests suggested that navigation-relevant knowledge and ability were not major determinants of success in verbal memory, even for participants who were confirmed to have been compliant with the strategy. These findings echo neuroimaging findings that navigation-based cognition does occur during application of the method of loci, but imagined navigation is unlikely to be directly responsible for its effectiveness. Instead, the method of loci may be best viewed as a variant of peg methods.

Publication Information

Caplan, J. B., Legge, E. L. G., Cheng, B., & Madan, C. R. (2019). Effectiveness of the method of loci is only minimally related to factors that should influence imagined navigation. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology., 72(10), 2541-2553. doi: 10.1177/1747021819858041


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