WHAT: Do memory athletes – folks who compete in memory championships – think differently than the rest of us? And if so, can we train ourselves to think as they do? Those questions were posed by researchers who compared the brain function of 23 highly ranked memory competitors with a matched group of naïve controls. Using functional neuroimaging (fMRI), researchers were able to identify a unique pattern of neural network organization and connectivity that distinguished the memory athletes from the matched controls. However after 6 weeks of mnemonic training, the naïve controls showed patterns of neural network organization and connectivity similar to that seen in the memory champions, and that those changes predicted memory improvements up to 4 months after the training.
WHY IT MATTERS: While decades of research have shown that memory training is effective, this study is among the first to look at neuronal activity among trained memory athletes and compare that patterning to folks undergoing memory training. While small, this elegantly designed research shows the actual impact of mnemonic training at the neuronal level, demonstrating not only the changes in neural network organization that shifts with such training but the alterations in connectivity patterns as well. Finally, the demonstrated durability of the training on memory function over several months post-training is consistent with other previous findings, such as those from the ACTIVE study.
THE TAKEAWAY: We can all achieve the brawny brain and revved-up recall of a memory champion – just learn and use mnemonic strategies! While this study is limited by its size, the findings clearly support the impact training in such techniques can have on how our brains actually think and our ability to learn and remember long after the training is completed. Just another reason to be sure and include memory training as part of your overall brain health program.