Memory Techniques for Med School #8 Memory Palace

Surgical team and patient with "Hi, I'm...." social name stickers

Adding the human touch to the operating room

The Memory Palace (also called the method of loci, or mental walk)  is a terrific memory method that was used as far back as ancient Rome, but has been largely underused since the invention of  printed books.  Neuropsychologist A.R. Luria, in his book “The Mind of  a Mnemonist,” describes an amazing patient he followed for many years, who never forgot anything.  The patient used the Memory Palace method, which is also praised highly by Joshua Foer, who won the U.S. memory championship and describes the method in his best-selling book “Moonwalking with Einstein.”

In the Memory Palace you simply visualize a walk through a place that you know well.  For instance, it may be your home, in which you first encounter a large tree outside, then the front door, then the foyer, then the den on the right, then the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, etc., in succession.  You know this sequential list well, simply by the familiarity that you have with your home.

You use this walking list of places to associate each stop along the walk with an item on the list you wish to memorize.

In the case of the 7 cancer signs:

1.  A change in bowel or bladder habits
2.  A sore that does not heal
3.  Unusual bleeding or discharge from any place
4.  A lump in the breast or other parts of the body
5.  Chronic indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
6.  Obvious changes in a wart or mole
7.  Persistent coughing or hoarseness

You might associate a cancerous tree, shaped like a “7,” that had a bowel and bladder exploding from its trunk.  Continuing the walk:

The fecal matter would land on the door, causing a large sore on the door.

The sore would erode through the door, causing a massive pool of blood and discharge in the foyer.

The den on the right would be filled to the ceiling with lumps.


The advantage of the Memory Palace over the Link and Peg methods is that you can have numerous memory palaces.  There then is no problem of confusing one item in a list with the same item in another list (such as a list of drug effects or symptoms of a disease).  Just use a different memory palace. Trained mnemonists use hundreds of Memory Palaces.  Moreover, you don’t have to memorize the number/letter combinations of the Peg method.  You already have ready made pegs through the places you have visited and know well.

Which memory and learning techniques do you find most valuable in your medical studies?
What do you think of eBooks versus print books?

Posted on July 15, 2011, in Rapid Learning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hello, I’m studying Med in France, same idea, lot of thing to learn 😉

    I’ve been using Mind Palaces for Medecine for over a year now. I developped a way to make quite complex scenarii that I stock in my mind palace. This work quite well, however there still are issues I have to solve to make it more efficient. Maybe you’d be able helping me :

    – Since every memory path you make need to be revised, how often do you need to do it? I mean, there are some rules about revision, such as Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, but is it still relevant when using memory palace ?

    – When you make a path for a certain topic, let’s say adverse effect of a drug : You create and stock your path as usual, and 2 months later, during a different course, the same drug is talked about and you have to add complementary details about it. How do you deal with it, considering that the place where you stocked the previous path is already full?

    – Do you need to write down the mnemotechnic stories you make ? Because remembering a path is okay, but when you make 10 of them per day, it’s kind of tough not to write down anything.

    Thanks for your help,


  2. Thanks for your comment Thomas. I think that the more you review the mnemonic, the longer you will be able to remember it. It should always be possible to add to the end of a memory palace mnemonic. Writing it down is a good idea. Not only does writing reinforce the memory, but it makes it more accessible in the future, when memory may fade.

  1. Pingback: Is Remembering Harder With eBooks? « MedMaster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: