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Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D. Headshot

Does Memory Training Really Work?

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flickr: h.koppdelaney
flickr: h.koppdelaney

Memory improvement has been referred to as "one of the world's oldest professions." While the practice of revving up our recall has been around since ancient times, scientific evidence for the impact of such training on memory performance has not. Now, as baby boomers age into "senior moments" and the new brain fitness market emerges as a result, research interest in proving the utility of memory training is likewise on the move.

Of course, memory training has been the subject of many studies over the past several decades. However, most of those studies were small, interventional research trials done in a lab or classroom. In addition, many of the ways we train ourselves to remember better don't really need to be studied; do we really require proof that lists help us remember what we need to do, or that keeping a calendar will boost our memory for appointments?

Recently, several studies have been released that look at the value of memory training. They give us some interesting new reasons why we should all be training our memories, such as:

  • Using a strategy can help us remember better. Researchers in the ACTIVE trial, the largest study to date on memory training, recently reported that folks who used a strategy to "cluster" words they had to learn and remember (such as learning them in order, or by a common semantic theme) performed significantly better in remembering the words than folks who did not.
  • Taking a memory class can improve our memory. A recent UCLA study found that participants in a 6-week class on memory and brain health did better on tests of verbal recall and had greater memory self-efficacy. This study is actually a favorite here at Memory Arts, as it further confirms earlier findings of the benefit of courses such as my own Total Memory Workout program.
  • Memory training works. A recent meta-analysis looking at 46 eligible studies on memory training published between 1967 and 2008 found that memory training has a significant effect on performance. (1) The analysis further demonstrated that the number of strategies trained for was the most robust predictor of impact of the training. This finding strengthens the case for learning more than one way to remember (since we use different strategies in different situations).

So yes, the latest research suggests memory training does really work. And while we may have known so all along based on previous findings and our own experience, it is nice to know that the science continues to support all that we do to remember better.

(1) Gross, AL., Parisi, J.M., Spira, A.P., Kueider, A.M., Ko, J.Y., Saczynski, J.S., Samus, Q.M., & Rebok, G.W. (in press). Memory training interventions for older adults: A meta-analysis. Aging and Mental Health.

For more by Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., click here.

For more on memory and cognition, click here.

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