Our working memory can hold about 7 numbers at a time. Are people who can remember thousands of numbers geniuses? How is it that people can remember thousands of digits of pi?
Working memory is defined as the storage system in which information is held while that information is being worked on. The holding capacity of working memory is described as “7-plus-or-minus- 2 “ items. This has been tested with a digit-span task. In this task, people are read a series of digits and must repeat them back. The longer the list gets however, the more difficult this becomes without making any errors. Once the list contains more than 7 or 8 digits, this task becomes extremely difficult.
This got me thinking- how is it that people some people can memorize so many more digits at a time than others? Is there a reason that certain people have a greater capacity for remembering a lot of items than others? Is there something different about their brain?
A man named Akira Haraguchi memorized 100,000 digits of pi. He spent 16.5 hours reciting number after number. How is this possible? Haraguchi has said that he is not a child prodigy of any sort. Moreover, when he was a kid, he even had trouble memorizing multiplication tables. His secret to memorizing 100,000 digits of pi is his use of mnemonics. The Mnemonic strategy is a technique designed to improve memory accuracy and make learning easier. This helps memory because it imposes an organization of the digits to be learned. In a study found on page 191 of our textbook, those who used mnemonic systems vastly out performed students who used other memorizing strategies such as verbal rehearsal.
Akira Haraguchi used a certain mnemonic method that involves assigning every digit 0-9 to consonant sounds and then turning this into words by adding vowels. This makes the numbers easier to recall because images are easier to recall than numbers. This method is called the “Major Method”. Here is the system he used:
0 = s, z
1 = t, d
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = l
6 = j, sh, soft g, soft ch
7 = k, g
8 = f, v
9 = p, b
unassigned = vowels, w, h, y, x
So for example, if you wanted to memorize the numbers 701, you would apply the letter g, s and t to the number, so you can just remember the word “ghost.” Remembering the word or image of a ghost is a lot easier than remembering the numbers 701. This makes recall of the numbers so much easier.
This is great news to everyone because you don’t have to be a genius to be able to remember numbers this way. With practice, anyone could remember thousands of numbers! Over and over, memory depends on making connections among ideas. If you are exposed to certain numbers without giving it any thought, these numbers will be extremely difficult to recall. However, connecting them to preexisting knowledge like words helps us recall this information much easier. Learning mnemonic strategies can be very useful to anyone. The use of mnemonics could help you memorize phone numbers, math formulas, birthdays; the list goes on and on. This is great news for students who need help memorizing information in school, or anyone who wants to improve their memory.
This article was very good at describing the kind of mnemonic device used to be able to memorize numbers and it also did a good job of making it so that the average individual can use these tricks. However, I wish it had discussed more uses for the mnemonic devices.