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Lawyer wins memory tournament; what are the secrets of success?

Posted May 20, 2014 11:36 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A 35-year-old German lawyer who holds the world record in card memorization was the $20,000 winner of the Extreme Memory Tournament last month in San Diego.

The New York Times had news of the win by Simon Reinhard in a story about research on memory athletes. (Reinhard's world record is for being able to memorize a deck of cards in 21.19 seconds.) One of the co-sponsors of the event, Washington University in St. Louis, conducted cognitive tests on the participants.

Most contestants use a similar technique, associating words, numbers or cards with images they have already memorized, and then mentally placing the pictures in a familiar location, such as rooms of a childhood home, the story says. One competitor, psychology teacher and British resident James Paterson, uses superheroes and movie scenes for memorization.

Top memorizers score well on tests of working memory, which isn’t all that surprising. In one test, subjects are asked to solve a series of equations, and then to remember the middle number in the equations. Skilled memorizers usually are able to store seven numbers in their working memory, while college students store, on average, only two.

Top memorizers also have good “attentional control” in that they are able to suppress past memory games to remember new ones. “In short,” the story says, “memory champions are not only exceptional at remembering. They’re also experts at forgetting.”

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