Mnemonic scaffolds vary in effectiveness for serial recall

Memory. 2022 Aug;30(7):869-894. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2022.2052322. Epub 2022 Mar 29.


Memory champions remember vast amounts of information in order and at first encounter by associating each study item to an anchor within a scaffold - a pre-learned, structured memory. The scaffold provides direct-access retrieval cues. Dominated by the familiar-route scaffold (Method of Loci), researchers have little insight into what characteristics of scaffolds make them effective, nor whether individual differences might play a role. We compared participant-generated mnemonic scaffolds: (a) familiar routes (Loci), (b) autobiographical stories (Story), (c) parts of the human body (Body), and (d) routine activities (Routine Activity). Loci, Body, and Story Scaffolds benefited serial recall over Control (no scaffold). The Body and Loci Scaffold were equally superior to the other scaffolds. Measures of visual imagery aptitude and vividness and body responsiveness did not predict accuracy. A second experiment tested whether embodiment could be responsible for the high level of effectiveness of the Body Scaffold; this was not supported. In short, mnemonic scaffolds are not equally effective and embodied cognition may not directly contribute to memory success. The Body Scaffold may be a strong alternative to the Method of Loci and may enhance learning for most learners, including those who do not find the Method of Loci useful.

Keywords: Method of Loci; Mnemonic techniques; embodiment; mnemonic scaffolds; serial recall; visual imagery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Learning
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*