What Do Exceptional Memorists Have in Common?

Without exception, all the extraordinary memorists relied upon five things:

What are the common elements in all the case studies of extraordinary memorists?

-Interest. Even Elizabeth, the eidetiker, used her talent primarily with art, her main interest. Aitken said, in describing the core of his memory technique, "Interest is the thing. Interest focuses the attention."

-Imagery. With the possible exception of Professor Aitken, all used imagery.

-A trancelike state of absorption. All seemed "cut off" from the outside world while remembering. They put themselves into deep states of concentration. In the case of S. it was a 3 or 4 second pause; in the case of Professor Aiken it was a sustained state of "possessed" (i.e. fully aware, attentive) relaxation.

-Letting the mind work on its own. None of these people endorsed effort as important. Several commented on the importance of letting the mind work on its own or learning "to let the properties of the material reveal themselves," as Prof. Aitken put it. In other words, they did not impose structure on the material so much as they allowed the material to impose structure on their minds.

-Attention to the inner structure of events. The memorists all tune in on how the components of a scene or situation relate to each other, so that the overall scene forms an entirely distinctive pattern. Hunter (1977) tried to explain Professor Aitken's amazing memory:

Aitken's memory was intimately linked with his ability to discern multiple properties that were interwoven into distinctive patterns....So many things, that would seem chaotic to a bystander, were, to him, embodiments of multiple properties that meshed into an interesting, memorable pattern.

Why might an athlete show extraordinary memory for events of a game?

Athletes often show extraordinary memory for games, because they attend to the inner structure of events. They see how various moves and strategies mesh into an interesting, memorable pattern. Later, the athlete can easily remember details of a contest, because recalling one part helps to recall the other parts that were related to it.

What is apparently the key to extraordinary memory?

What is the bottom line? The secrets of the great memorists involve nothing fancy or special. They get interested and absorbed in studying details of a situation and how the elements interact. When they remember part of it, they tend to remember the rest of it as well.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey