The memory champion of the world is able to reproduce a sequence of several thousand zeros and ones or playing cards and never make a mistake. In 2013, German Simon Reinhard memorized the names of 181 people in just 15 minutes, and Johannes Mallow learned 132 historical dates in an hour.
Most champions of such competitions do not use excellent memory from birth, but have developed it with special exercises. Records prove that exercise gives results, but scientists still do not fully understand how such training works in terms of neuroscience.
In 2017, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Stanford University and the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands attempted to understand how the brain of a “mental athlete” (as participants in memory competitions are called) differs from the brain of an ordinary person.
To do this, they performed functional magnetic resonance imaging of 23 champions and participants in world competitions and ordinary people who have never trained their memory, both at rest and during a memory task.
Then, in a group of beginners (they are called “naive” subjects of the experiment), memory was trained according to known methods. A month and a half later, the “naive” group underwent fMRI again.
It turned out that at rest, the difference between the brain of a champion and the brain of a “naive” subject is expressed in the connectivity between different parts of the cortex: the visual cortex, the medial temporal lobe, and the passive mode network of the brain that works when you rest.
And during the performance of tasks for memorization, on the contrary, the number of connections between neurons within these zones differs.
It also turned out that six weeks of training is enough for the number of connections between neurons in the brain to increase, and the topology of connectivity approached that observed in the brain of a trained “mental athlete.”
At the beginning of the experiment, the world’s best “memorizers” showed the ability to memorize an average of 71 words out of 72 in 20 minutes; people in the control group recalled only 26 words.
In six weeks, participants in the experiment learned to memorize twice as many random words. Every day, people devoted half an hour to memory training.
One of the main exercises was invented by the ancient Greeks: a person needs to mentally walk around familiar places – for example, his house – and place various objects in random places. The effect of one and a half months of classes lasted four months.
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