Moonwalking with Einstein takes us on the author’s journey towards becoming the USA Memory Champion. Along the way he explains why an extraordinary memory isn’t just available to a select few people but to all of us. The book explores how memory works, why we’re worse at remembering than our ancestors, and explains specific techniques for improving your own memory.
Have you ever met someone with a knack for remembering names or facts and thought: “Why can’t I do that?” Well, anyone can improve their memory. All you need to do is learn how to use the capacity of your memory correctly – it’s far from being a talent that you either do or don’t have.
One way you can do this is by practicing the phonological loop method, where you repeat the things you need to remember to yourself. This method was demonstrated in a classic experiment by psychologist K. A. Ericsson and his colleague Bill Chase, who presented an undergraduate known as SF with digits that he had to repeat back to them.
At first, SF could retain around seven items in his phonological loop, which is considered an average result. However, after practicing this test for 250 hours, SF was able to expand his memory by a factor of 10.
Aside from the phonological loop method, you can also improve your memory in a particular field by becoming an expert in that area. In the 1920s, scientists tested world-class chess players on their general cognitive abilities, such as memory. They found that although expert players were far better at chess than average players, they did not perform significantly better on any of the general tests.
Later in the 1940s, however, a Dutch psychologist found that expert chess players do have a so-called “chess memory,” enabling them to see the chessboard differently than less experienced players. That is, they focus on spots on the board that are the most relevant and, rather than perceiving the board as 32 pieces, they see a few bigger pieces of the board.
Although their general memory remained the same, by becoming skilled at chess, their memory of the game developed massively.