VR Memory Palace Study Shows Recall Improvement

VR Locations Aid Recall in Study

At the University of Maryland College Park, Krokos et al recently published a paper  “Virtual memory places: immersion aids recall“, which shows more than 8% recall improvement of a VR memory palace over a desktop memory palace.

The authors provide a nice overview of related work and then describe their study which compared desktop 3D scenes and virtual reality scenes (Head Mount Display – HMD) of a palace and a medieval town as locations to use the method of loci for recall.

The memory task the study participants were to do was recalling two sets of faces and names they saw in these two scenes after two minutes.  Strangely, they allowed study participants to rotate their view, but not to translate (move around).  Even with this limitation in their study, they found there was a statistically significant effect favoring the HMD (VR) display over the desktop display.  Study participants were better able to recall items by 8.8% overall average difference using the HMD over the desktop display.

We have released Loci Memory Palace app for Windows Mixed Reality, which is a virtual reality memory palace populated with nodes and links that are part of your mind map graphs.  With Loci Memory Palace, you can move around your memory palace and make mind maps by placing nodes in locations that help you recall.  Our Loci app is available now on the Microsoft Store here.

With Loci Memory Palace, you can load images from files and place them in the memory palace, moving yourself and the nodes around in full six degree of freedom.  When compared to the conditions of this study, there is more involvement of your body in placing, naming, editing, and associating nodes, and because of this embodiment, involving more of your senses and thoughts, an even greater improvement in recall from using Loci than this study is likely.  Your recall of your notes and ideas is available to you even when you are not using our software.

Krokos, Eric & Plaisant, Catherine & Varshney, Amitabh. (2018). Virtual memory palaces: immersion aids recall. Virtual Reality. 10.1007/s10055-018-0346-3.

Abstract: Virtual reality displays, such as head-mounted displays (HMD), afford us a superior spatial awareness by leveraging our vestibular and proprioceptive senses, as compared to traditional desktop displays. Since classical times, people have used memory palaces as a spatial mnemonic to help remember information by organizing it spatially and associating it with salient features in that environment. In this paper, we explore whether using virtual memory palaces in a head-mounted display with head-tracking (HMD condition) would allow a user to better recall information than when using a traditional desktop display with a mouse-based interaction (desktop condition). We found that virtual memory palaces in HMD condition provide a superior memory recall ability compared to the desktop condition. We believe this is a first step in using virtual environments for creating more memorable experiences that enhance productivity through better recall of large amounts of information organized using the idea of virtual memory palaces.

Image of training and test memory palaces for this post is from this paper, used under creative commons license.

Method of Loci

Cicero Denounces Catiline by Maccari

The method of loci is a memory technique used in ancient Greece and Rome where you imagine a building, and mentally place the items you must remember at locations in the building. Then later you recall these items as you mentally walk through the building and view them in the locations you pass. As this New York Times article on the method of loci describes, the first known published description of this method was in Rhetorica ad Herennium in 80 B.C.  Cicero also describes this method in his work De Oratore.

A study of the method of loci published in March 2017 by scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, the Donders Institute, and Stanford University on the effectiveness of the method of loci showed this technique results in significant recall improvement across time periods of twenty minutes, one day, and four months. Even after four months, the group using the method of loci had more than a 20% level of improvement in recall over the active and passive control groups.

The study included using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the subjects, and then comparing their before and after MRIs with memory athletes. They found the method of loci subject’s connections across brain centers came to resemble the memory athlete’s. In their study they show with a figure of the brain’s MRI connections the noticeable difference in connections between memory athletes and controls and indicate this improvement from using the method of loci may result from improved connections (links) across brain areas.

Our Loci app is available now for Windows Mixed Reality on the Microsoft Store here.  Using Loci, you link in your mind. You place nodes with camera or file images, web links, or text at locations in your home and office. You can link them to form mind map graphs or you can leave them unattached as a form of pinned note. In either case you have placed them in a location, reinforcing your memory of them for recall at any time, even when not using the Loci application. Furthermore, you can share your mind map graphs with others, taking the method of loci from one person’s internal thoughts to an external visualization that can be communicated digitally with other contributors.