The Effects of Types of Self-generated Loci on Memory Recall
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The method of loci has been used as an effective mnemonic technique to improve human’s memory. It involves choosing a familiar route, creating images for the items to be memorized, and placing the images of items to the loci. This study compared two types of loci, university loci vs. home loci, both generated by the participants, and attempted to find out whether the effects on memory recall are significantly different.
The participants, 556 undergraduate students, were asked to recall a list of words after listening to them, and the scores were recorded for the first part. In the second part, these participants were randomly allocated to a university loci and a home loci group. With the method of loci, the recall performances were recorded again. It was found out that both types of loci were effective in increasing the number of items recalled, and the university loci groups showed significantly larger improvement compared to its counterpart. It was concluded that choosing the most effective route for the method of loci could be essential in improving memory performance, and distance and distinctiveness would possibly reduce false memories and enhance memory recall.
The Effects of Types of Self-generated Loci on Memory Recall
It is common that people tend to forget some things in mind because human beings have restricted memory capacity. Mnemonic techniques are needed to help enhance the memory recall. The method of loci, as an important mnemonic device, was firstly adopted by ancient Roman and Greek rhetorical treatises. The application of this method simply involves visualization and re-organization of verbal information, and consists of three steps: choosing and visualizing a series of loci along a familiar route, forming an image with each item or word to be memorized, and then associating the images of the items with the loci (Moè & De Beni, 2005). This method is also known as a method of “memory palace” (Robson, 2011).
A number of studies have demonstrated the effects of applying the loci method on the memory of word-lists (Bower, 1970; Cornoldi & De Beni, 1991; Seidenberg, Waters, Sanders, & Langer, 1984). These effects are across different learning modalities, for example for both concrete information and abstract information (Wang & Thomas, 2000). Previous studies have shown the different levels of effectiveness in improving their memory recall when the method of loci is applied to different age groups (Baltes & Kliegl, 1992; Rose & Yesavage, 1983; Yesavage & Rose, 1984), have found that the method of loci is more effective for objects presented in an oral form than objects in a written form (Cornoldi & De Beni, 1991), or have compared the effects between describing detailed features of the places on the map and just outlining the locations (Schwartz & Kulhavy, 1981). However, there is less literature focusing on comparing the effects of different choices of pathways on recall improvement. It was found that memory recall performance is significantly affected by the characteristics of the pathways, for example, the complexity of the pathways (Parmentier, Elford, & Maybery, 2005). This study is an attempt to explore the impacts of different types of self-chosen loci on memory recall. By comparing the effects of two types of loci (university loci vs. home loci) on memory recall, as measured by the number of words recalled, this study attempts to answer the following questions:
- Does the application of the method of loci have significant effects on wordlist recall?
- Does the effect differ for different types of loci, considering that these series of loci are all from relatively familiar pathways?
It was hypothesized in this study that: (1) both types of loci would significantly increase the memory recall; (2) the students who are in ‘university loci’ group would have better performance than those in the other group.
A total of 556 undergraduate students from the University of Western Sydney participated in a study of involving different types of method of loci and memory recall. These students were randomly allocated to a university loci group and a home loci group. The university loci group consisted of students who were asked to write down and remember a familiar route to university, n= 292; and the home loci group consisted of students who were asked to write down and remember a habitual route they normally take at home, n = 264.
Materials and Apparatus
Two lists, each comprising 20 items were used. The lists contained a mixture of household items and items that you would find on your way to university. The two lists of 20 items were similar in terms of subject content and word usage in the English language.
Participants were tested in class groups (n =12 to 20). In the first memory recall task participants were read a list of 20 items. These items were read at an interval of five seconds per item. At the end of the 20 items participants were asked to recall as many of the words as possible, in no particular order. The experimenter then read the list of words again and the participants marked how many were correctly recalled.
Participants then learned and practiced the method of loci. Participants were instructed that the method of loci involved associating the item that they were trying to remember with the familiar location. Two examples were provided and participants were instructed to pictorially link the item they wanted to remember with the loci they had selected.
Tutorial groups were then divided into the “university loci” or the “home loci” condition. In the “university loci” condition participants were asked to write down a familiar well-known path on their way to university e.g. starting with home door as the first location and ending with the university as the last. Participants in the “home loci” were given the additional information that they could use a set of familiar behaviours at home as part of their orientation e.g. starting from getting out of bed until leaving the house in the morning. After participants had learned the pathway (either to the university or the familiar patterns at home) they were asked to write down the sequence of 20 locations and to learn them extensively.
Participants were instructed to pictorially link the item they were remembering with their loci. Two examples were provided. The experimenter then read the second list of words out. These items were read at an interval of five seconds per item. At the end of the 20 items participants were asked to recall as many of the words as possible, in no particular order. The experimenter then read the list of words again and the participants marked how many were correctly recalled. Scores in each trial were tallied in an excel spreadsheet.
Memory recall, both pre-test and post-test were analysed on 556 participants using a mixed repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with type of loci as the between-groups factor with two levels: home loci (n = 264), and university loci (n = 292). The ANOVA test assumptions were satisfactory.
The main effect for type of loci was not significant, F>(1, 554) = .65, p = .421. The main effect for time (pre and post-test scores on memory recall) was significant F(1,554 = 127.75, p < .001. The average number of words recalled after the method of loci (university and home conditions) was 12.46. This was significantly higher than the number of words recalled prior to the method of loci which was 10.56.
T-tests indicate that the university loci significantly increased memory recall (10.13 to 12.70 words recalled) and that home loci significantly increased memory recall (11.04 to 12.19 words recalled). The interaction between time and type of loci interaction was significant, F(1, 554) = 18.728, p < .001, with the university loci pathway leading to significantly better recall between pre and post test compared to the home loci pathway. This can be seen in Table 1 below.
Pre and Post test scores on university and home loci
The results from the ANOVA analysis and statistical tests support the first hypothesis presented earlier that both groups of students show significantly better recall performance after the method of loci. The second hypothesis is evidenced by the results of T-tests, in other words, the university loci method has increased the memory recall to a larger degree compared to the other method, although this hypothesis is not well supported by the results from the ANOVA analysis.
The first finding reinforces the effectiveness of the method of loci on memory recall improvement, which has been illustrated in previous studies (Bower, 1970; Higbee, 1977). This finding implies that both university pathway and home pathway are good choices for linking locations to the words to be memorized, given the fact that the loci in both groups were selected from familiar pathways by the participants. The second finding in terms of the different effects brought by these two types of loci is in great accordance with findings in one of the previous studies (Massen, Vaterrodt-Plünnecke, Krings, & Hilbig, 2009). Massen et al. (2009) found that the participants who were instructed to create loci on their routes to work recalled significantly more objects than the participants who applied loci on their routes in the house. Possible explanations of why university loci or work loci work better in improving memory recalls are: (1) Distance to the university or to the work place is larger than travel distance in the house. The locations along the pathway are more dispersed, which would reduce the confusion and mix-up in the memory. (2) The loci along the routes to work or to study are generally more distinctive and are associated with more features. For example, I would pass a hospital, a recreational centre, a high rise building, a football field, a parking lot, a fire station and other places along the way from my home to the university and these locations all have their distinct characteristics. On the contrary, the home route may consist of a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom and other “rooms”. Furthermore, the spatial images associated with these places in the house are much more similar compared to those ones along the pathway to work or to study. These explanations have theoretical and practical supports from previous studies such as Hege and Dodson (2004), who found that distance and distinctiveness can significantly reduce false memories and lead to better memory performance (Hege & Dodson, 2004).
This study compares the effects of two different types of loci on memory recall performance, and finds that both types of loci are effective in increasing the memory recall of the items, and it also finds that the university loci is significantly more effective than the home loci. In accordance with a few previous studies, this study contributes to the knowledge that the choice of different routes by the participants could be essential in determining the recall performance, and that the distance and distinctiveness can effectively reduce false memories and increase memory recalls.