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Effectiveness of the method of loci is only minimally related to factors that should influence imagined navigation

Caplan, Jeremy; Legge, Eric; Cheng, Bevin; MADAN, CHRISTOPHER


Jeremy Caplan

Eric Legge

Bevin Cheng


The method of loci is arguably the most famous mnemonic strategy and is highly effective for memorising lists of non-spatial information in order. As described and instructed, this strategy apparently relies on a spatial/navigational metaphor. The user imagines moving through an environment, placing (study) and reporting (recall) list items along the way. However, whether the method relies critically on this spatial/navigation metaphor is unknown. An alternative hypothesis is that the navigation component is superfluous to memory success, and the method of loci is better viewed as a special case of a larger class of imagery-based peg strategies. Training participants on three virtual environments varying in their characteristics (an apartment, an open field, and a radial-arm maze), we asked participants to use each trained environment as the basis of the method of loci to learn five 11-word lists. Performance varied significantly across environment. However, the effects were small in magnitude. Further tests suggested that navigation-relevant knowledge and ability were not major determinants of success in verbal memory, even for participants who were confirmed to have been compliant with the strategy. These findings echo neuroimaging findings that navigation-based cognition does occur during application of the method of loci, but imagined navigation is unlikely to be directly responsible for its effectiveness. Instead, the method of loci may be best viewed as a variant of peg methods.


Caplan, J., Legge, E., Cheng, B., & MADAN, C. (2019). Effectiveness of the method of loci is only minimally related to factors that should influence imagined navigation. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 72(10), 2541-2553.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 8, 2019
Online Publication Date Jul 5, 2019
Publication Date Oct 1, 2019
Deposit Date Apr 10, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 10, 2019
Journal Quarterly journal of experimental psychology (2006)
Print ISSN 1747-0218
Electronic ISSN 1747-0226
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 72
Issue 10
Pages 2541-2553
Public URL
Publisher URL


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