Personal Growth

The Method of Loci Is a Mnemonic Strategy That Can Help People With Depression

Depression can feel like a brick wall that blocks out all the happy. One way to cope with the condition is to realize that you're not alone: according to the World Health Organization, 350 million people around the world suffer from depression. Another way to make the disorder more manageable may be something called the Method of Loci.

Cribs: Memory Palace Edition

The Method of Loci (MoL) is known by several different names: the memory journey, memory palace, mind palace technique, and others. It's an extremely versatile mnemonic device that can be used to memorize just about anything and everything — supposedly, it can enable you to memorize 100 digits of pi in just a few minutes. (Seriously.)

Here's how the MoL works: You create an imaginary palace in your mind, and pretend you're walking through it. You then assign the items you're trying to remember (speaking points in a presentation, digits of pi, etc.) to visual aspects of the palace you're passing through. When you walk to the chandelier, you know it's time to bring up the chart in your presentation. Then you might move to a teacup on a table, and you're reminded to start describing an anecdote about your tea manufacturing client. That's just one example; you could use this strategy for a wide variety of purposes. The MoL is basically a visual filing system that relies on your sense of location. Loci, after all, is plural for locus, which means location.

Moody Blues

When you're dealing with depression, it can be hard to remember that there's any good in the world. It makes sense, then, that the MoL could be an effective tool for coping with depression. And according to a 2016 study published in Clinical Psychological Science, it is. The UK researchers recruited participants who had a history of depression and taught half how to use the MoL to access positive, self-affirming memories when unsavory moods turned up, and half to just rehearse how to recall happy memories. When compared to the rehearsal group, the ones using the MoL remembered their assigned process better both after one week and after three months. Both groups were able to use the strategies they learned to escape a blue mood, but the MoL group kept it up long-term. In diaries they kept of their day-to-day lives, according to the study, "participants trained to use the MoL reported greater use of the memory repository to offset downturns in mood in day-to-day life, indicating that this could be a useful strategy for mood regulation."

For more memory-boosting techniques, check out "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything" by Joshua Foer. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Constructing a Memory Palace

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The memory palace technique works well when you visualize a familiar space, such as your home. 00:43

  2. The brain remembers wacky or weird images more easily. 00:55

  3. People who can perform extraordinary feats of memory tend to rely on spatial memory more than the average person. 02:32

Written by Joanie Faletto February 12, 2018