An ancient memory technique developed by Aboriginal Australians significantly helps medical students retain information, according to a paper published in PLOS ONE.
Aboriginal culture relies on oral history to preserve and share important information, such as navigation, location and identification of food sources, and inter/intra country political relationships. These memory methods, developed over tens of thousands of years, include attaching facts to stories and landscapes to help “picture” where information is stored.
The researchers, led by David Reser of Monash University and Tyson Yunkaporta of Deakin University, compared the technique to another memory system called a “memory palace”, which dates back to the ancient Greeks.
In the memory palace, students organised facts by placing them into remembered childhood rooms. By visiting rooms in their mind, they could recall information.
In this new study, the two student groups – plus a control group who used another technique – were taught one technique and the names of 20 butterflies, and then asked to recall the names 10 and 30 minutes later.
The students who used the Aboriginal memory technique were three times more likely to remember the entire list than they were before they were trained in this type of recall. The memory palace group were about twice as likely to recall the whole list, and the control group only improved by 50%.
Interestingly, the students who used the Aboriginal technique also found it more enjoyable, “both as a way to remember facts but also as a way to learn more about Aboriginal culture”, says Reser.
The researchers suggest this could be beneficial to medical students, who are required to rote learn high volumes of information.
“This year we hope to offer this to students as a way to not only facilitate their learning but to reduce the stress associated with a course that requires a lot of rote learning,” says Reser.
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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