What is a Mnemonist?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A mnemonist is someone who has a remarkable memory. Such a person can memorize extremely large sets of data, using a variety of techniques. While a good memory might seem more like a party trick than anything else, some people can make careers out of their excellent memories. Several studies have been done on mnemonists to learn more about how their brains work, with the goal of understanding more about memory and of potentially identifying areas of further study which could be used to help people with memory impairments.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

There is some dispute about whether a mnemonist is born or made. Some people believe that astounding powers of memorization are probably innate, and have something to do with the way in which the brain is wired. This view has been borne out by studies on groups such as people with autism which show that functional differences in brain function appear to be associated with improved memory. Some individuals with autism are mnemonists or have unusually good memories even if they are not able to accomplish feats like reciting Pi to 4,000 digits.

Others believe that it is possible to train the memory, and that while some people may certainly have advantages built into their brains, it is possible to create a mnemonist. In addition, it is possible for someone who has developed an excellent memory to teach memorization skills to others. Some have developed their own techniques, some rely on existing techniques, and others integrate several different approaches to memorization, offering classes and workshops for people who want to improve their memories.

Other mnemonists have chosen to utilize their memories in performance. Achieving world records is a hobby for some, and others demonstrate their skills of recall in front of groups of observers. Several people with notable memories have even written books about their experiences and the way in which they view the world, including instructional books which are designed to be used to devise mnemonics programs.

Brain imaging studies on mnemonists have shown that different areas of the brain appear to activate when it comes to retrieving and storing memories, depending on the type of memory and the individual mnemonist. Various memory-enhancing tricks can also activate different areas of the brain, as for example when people use a technique known as the method of loci, in which they use guided imagery to reinforce a memory and make it easier to retrieve.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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