Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory

Course No. 1965
Professor Peter M. Vishton, Ph.D.
The College of William & Mary
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Course No. 1965
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Use the Method of Loci to get a handle on how to use imagery to enhance your memory capabilities.
  • numbers Learn why we forget information and how to exercise - and maximize - both long- and short-term memory.
  • numbers Discover how to improve your memory and keep your whole brain in peak condition.

Course Overview

What was the name of your first pet? Where did you put your house keys? How do you get to work every morning? Most likely, you didn't need to look up the answers to these questions. You remembered them. Memory is, without a doubt, the most powerful (and practical) tool of everyday life. By linking both your past and your future, memory gives you the power to plan, to reason, to perceive, and to understand. As long as thinking and insight are important in how we live our lives, memory will be critical as well. And the better your memory, the more information you'll have at your immediate disposal and the better your thinking will be.

Yet while all of us have an amazing capacity for memory, there are plenty of times when it seems to fail us. Why does this happen? And how can you fix it?

According to award-winning Professor Peter M. Vishton of The College of William & Mary, an engaging cognitive scientist who has spent decades studying the secrets of human memory, the problem is simple. "Our brains were not really built for the types of memory challenges we give them in classrooms, offices, and throughout our daily lives,"he says. "So the central trick to enhancing the power of your memory is to transform things that are hard to remember into things that are easier for your brain to encode and later recall.”

This insight lies at the heart of his captivating course Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory. In just six engaging and interactive lectures, you'll explore the real research (not the fads) on how memory functions—and then apply these findings to help you make better use of the memory abilities you have. By tapping into a series of scientifically proven strategies, tricks, and techniques, and by practicing them through dynamic exercises led by Professor Vishton, you'll emerge from the end of this short course with the ability to process information more effectively and to increase your chance of remembering almost anything you want.

Discover How Remarkable Memory Is

Throughout this course, Professor Vishton continually focuses on just how remarkable memory is—and how easily it can be strengthened, enhanced, and improved at any age.

"We may have trouble remembering phone numbers, names, where we left our keys, or facts for an exam,"he says. "All of these failings, however, are not due to limitations of your brain to encode and store information. We all have this capacity, and to a remarkable level!”

The most important way to improve your memory performance and to remember information accurately and for a long time, according to Professor Vishton, is to transform that information into something that's easier for your brain to remember and use, like a distinct visual image or a simple string of letters. Essentially all of the techniques you learn about in Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory center on this single goal.

Build Your Mental Tool Kit

So what are some of the powerful skills you'll be able to add to your mental tool kit? Throughout these lectures, you'll learn about a range of methods and techniques designed to boost your memory's powers.

  • The Major System: How can you convert hard-to-remember numbers (such as birthdays, identification numbers, or parking lot zones) into easy-to-remember images? Developed in 1648, the Major System assigns a particular phonetic consonant sound to the digits 0 through 9. When you intersperse vowels and other non-Major consonants, you can make words of items that you can easily imagine.
  • The Method of Loci: Credited to the Greek poet Simonides, the Method of Loci is one of the simplest and most effective tricks for memorizing information. If you can tie the information—whether it's a shopping list or the names of the last 15 U.S. presidents—to known, physical locations, then your memory for it will be dramatically improved compared with simply attempting to recall the information off the top of your head.
  • Chunking: Studies have shown that people can hold about seven meaningful, self-coherent items (such as letters or entire sentences) in their short-term memory (known as "chunks”). From this perspective, these seven storage locations can actually hold a nearly unlimited number of things. All you have to do is learn to pack more information into each of these seven chunks using the other strategies explored in the course.

And those are only a few of the insights you'll find. You'll also get tips on everything from how best to study for an exam to proven ways for transferring information from your short-term to your long-term memory.

Unlock Your Memory's Untapped Potential

"I've long been fascinated with human cognition and the brain,"notes Professor Vishton, named one of the best 300 professors in America by The Princeton Review. "And since the beginning of my time studying psychology, I've also been interested in memory.”

His amazement at the strength and capabilities of human memory is one you'll most certainly be agreeing with as you learn from each of his expertly crafted lectures. With his wealth of experience both teaching and researching the mysteries of memory and the human mind, Professor Vishton offers you the model guide for improving your own everyday memory.

And to expand on your skills and put them to work, he's filled these six lectures with short exercises you can perform as you watch or listen. Pause the course and work on the examples or test your newfound skills at the end of each lecture; there are plenty of opportunities for you to practice what you've learned.

We've all long held people with fantastic memories as somehow superhuman; but the truth is that anyone can be a memory whiz—provided they know the skills for doing so. And now Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory offers you the key to unlocking your memory's vast, untapped potential.

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6 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Your Amazing Prehistoric Memory
    Discover how remarkable your memory ability can be and get an introduction to some of the fascinating ways you can transform your average memory into an excellent one. After a quick memory test to set the stage, Professor Vishton introduces you to one of the most basic ways your memory can encode information: the Major System. With this strategy, you’ll learn how to encode numbers into words and then into distinct images that can help you recall the numerical information whenever you like. You’ll also explore the prehistoric roots of why we think the way we do. x
  • 2
    Encoding Information with Images
    Focus on one of the simplest tricks for memorizing information: the Method of Loci. Like the Major System, this strategy encodes information into a format your brain is especially good at using; in this case, it ties information to a physical location. Gain familiarity with this method through several engaging exercises. Also, peek inside the mind of mental athletes to see how their seemingly superhuman feats of memory are rooted in nothing more than innate brain power we all have. x
  • 3
    Maximizing Short- and Long-Term Memory
    In this insightful lecture, Professor Vishton walks you through the three steps of successful memory: a perception to short-term memory, encoding short-term memory to your long-term memory, and retrieving information from your long-term memory. In addition, you’ll explore how amnesia and other hippocampus-related damages can disrupt this normal memory process; you’ll examine some intriguing ways (such as “chunking”) to get around the limitations of your short-term memory; and much more. x
  • 4
    Why and When We Forget
    Forgetting happens to the best of us—but it can be mitigated through the use of several key techniques. Among the topics you’ll investigate are the “Ebbinghaus forgetting function,” which offers insights into the relationship between time, amount of studying, and the likelihood of memory recall; the most effective way to remember a new set of information (hint: it doesn’t involve cramming); and how to access that pesky piece of information that’s “on the tip of your tongue.” x
  • 5
    Keeping Your Whole Brain in Peak Condition
    To have a good memory that functions at the peak of its powers, you need to keep your entire brain healthy. Professor Vishton shows you how to do just that. You’ll learn how not just a part of your brain, but the entire organ, is involved in remembering things. You’ll also investigate the science behind studies of exercise, sleep, and nutrition—and the curious ways that a balanced diet, daily activity, and a good night’s sleep relate to optimal mental functioning. x
  • 6
    Human Memory Is Reconstruction, Not Replay
    Why should you bother enhancing your memory when there are computers that can do it for you? In what ways is information stored on a computer different from information stored in the recesses of your brain? What are the limits of how memory functions? What are some important roles that technology can—and should—play in backing up our memories? Why are “source memories” and “flashbulb memories” so problematic, and how can you recognize them? Find the answers in this final lecture x

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Your professor

Peter M. Vishton

About Your Professor

Peter M. Vishton, Ph.D.
The College of William & Mary
Dr. Peter M. Vishton is Associate Professor of Psychology at The College of William & Mary. He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty of William & Mary, he taught at Northwestern University and served as the program director for developmental and learning sciences at the National Science Foundation. A consulting editor for the journal Child Development,...
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Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 89.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Dr. Vishton is just simply awesome. Neat, polite, thorough, clear, humble, loves teaching, just awesome. Any course he teaches is great.
Date published: 2020-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging, but not a "How To" on Memory Improvement This was a very interesting series of lectures on how your brain stores and recalls memories in pictures and whole concepts. A couple (two) of memory tricks are presented, but the rest of the seies is about how the brain functions and why the tricks work. You can binge watch the entire series of lectures in about three hours.
Date published: 2020-03-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A wasted opportunity, sufficient for beginners This short 6 lecture course presented by Professor Peter Vishton attempts to present the underlying foundations to achieving a good memory. Understandably, I had to limit my expectations for I have had much experience with memory techniques in the past and have read much on the subject. The fact is that one must be realistic when considering his/her expectations from this 3-hour course. That is to say: it will not prepare you for the World Memory Championships. Training one’s memory takes much time and practice if you wish to see significant changes. Unfortunately, this course only devotes two of the six lectures to applicable techniques (one technique for each of the two lectures), with the remaining four focusing on what I would consider the “basic science of memory”. Let us consider the first two lectures in Isolation. The first lecture deals with what your memory is and how it is designed to be good at remembering certain things by supplying some interesting examples. It is here that Professor Vishton introduces you to the Major System, allowing you to convert numbers into images. After rapidly going through the system via the briefest of explanations, he proceeds with a sufficiently clear example. The second lecture sees Professor Vishton follow up with a few examples of how the Major system can be applied to memorise a string of numbers. Here is where we find our first problem. When teaching this system, one must take care to provide examples that are clear and easy to find associations for. His example is poor (the LaSH LeeR example) and would serve to give the beginner the wrong idea. You want to focus on objects; things that move, things that you can visualise and avoid verbs when creating associations. Professor Vishton also skips over the subtle difficulties that newcomers to the system can face. He should have devoted an entire lecture to this system. The remainder of his examples are clearer, and hopefully the viewer will consider these easier to associate with. (If you're curious, I would have picked LeeCH in place of LaSH, and LawyeR in place of LeeR). Thankfully, the second lecture deals with what I would consider one of the most powerful tools (and the reason this course isn’t a complete waste of time): the method of Loci. Here, the instructor supplies an example of its use, and how effective it can be in encoding information. Considering this is a beginner's course, I didn’t agree with his method of chunking two items into last room (the milk and orange juice) which can cause interference especially if you’re just starting to become familiar with the system. Regardless, I thought this example was clear enough to demonstrate the method efficiently. If your purpose was to learn applicable memory techniques, then you may stop here. Now, having learnt this information, you’re ready to apply it. The first thing you’re going to do look to the guidebook for more examples and (hopefully) some exercises, only to find that there is no guidebook. I believe this to be the most outstanding flaw of this course. I am aware that it is a very short course but considering how to instructor talks about how easy it is to forget material only to not provide a means to reinforce that material is careless. At a minimum, a recommendation for a website or app (there exist plenty) where the viewer can revise and practice his/her new skills would have been appreciated by the learner. Having a good memory book (recommendations later) by your side would prove useful to remedy this inexcusable omission. As for the remaining lectures, they serve as an exploration of memory and provide some basic science behind the concept. Much of this material I would consider to be filler, to spread the course across the six lectures. It is common knowledge that diet and exercise amongst other factors are all important when it comes to retaining optimal cognitive function. The remainder of the material feels like it belongs to another course, and indeed, such advice can be found in numerous other Teaching Company courses and in greater detail. To clarify, it is not that this feels necessarily out of place, but this extra time could have been devoted to solidifying what had been learnt in the first two lectures, with more applications. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We live in a time where bookshop shelves are weighed down by titles on self-improvement, with the fight against cognitive decline being a primary concern. Memory Improvement books litter these shelves (and online), which begs the question: Why should you watch this course? For some people, this could be their only exposure to memory techniques and hence they could learn much from those first two lectures. In addition, Professor Vishton is pleasant to listen to (even if he does trip over his words from time to time and prematurely looks to another camera before the switch takes place). This course could motivate them to at least try the systems, and/or read one of the many excellent memory books. For these reasons, this course is worth your time as a skeletal introduction to the subject of memory improvement. On the other hand, for those of you who are familiar with the basics of memory improvement or have taken a course (via a book or some other means), there is nothing new here. Allow me to summarise as follows: Pros + Pleasant Instructor + Introduces two excellent systems: The Major System and Method of Loci Cons - Too brief in places - Some examples could be better thought out - No Guidebook - Only the first two lectures pertain to applicable memory techniques ----------------------------------------------- Recommended Books on Memory: When it comes to books, we are at the point of saturation (especially if one looks online). There exist different systems, different approaches to the same material. The authors below were instrumental in laying the foundations of what you will find in almost any book. I personally recommend the following: The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne – The classic book on memory. Covers the Major System with many applications. Highly recommended. How to Develop a Perfect Memory by Dominic O’ Brien – Eight times world memory champion. Any of his books will suffice as they all effectively deal with the same material. He deals with the Method of Loci and its applications. I highly recommend his audiobook “Quantum Memory Power” which also serves as an excellent introduction to memory techniques. Note: He doesn’t use the major system but another system to memorise numbers (the DOMINIC system) which is worth a try if you're curious. From this point it is up to you where you want to go, and how far you want to improve your memory. This course may not be the panacea to every memory problem you face nor will you be competing in the Memory championships upon completion, but that isn’t the point. If you take anything away from this course, it should be this: Your memory can be improved with a little time and effort, no matter what your age may be. Try to remember that.
Date published: 2020-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Short series This course was easy to complete due to the short series of only six lectures of 30 minutes each.
Date published: 2019-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love learning I have learned so much just in the first course. I bought three courses and I am so excited to learn more
Date published: 2019-02-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from So, so. There was not anything in that course that was not common knowledge.
Date published: 2018-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Memory Tools! The course was short, but highly effective, with several tools I could use immediately to help me remember everything from "where I put my keys" to the list and order of songs I'm singing in the Christmas program. The instructor had a very easy and personable presentation style that made it easy to follow the lessons and put them into practice.
Date published: 2018-11-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Average Course I found this course fairly underwhelming, although that may be because the target audience of the course seems to be people who feel that they have poor memories. (I would describe myself as someone with an average memory, but still wanted to improve it.) Some of the methods the professor described, such as the MAJOR system, seem only worth the time, complication, and effort that they require if you have substantial difficulties with remembering certain things. The professor does offer some helpful approaches to memory (such as his lists of memory tips, or suggestions on ways to remember people's names), but they could easily have fit into one lecture, rather than six. I wouldn't recommend this course in audio--there are a couple of visual exercises performed in the lecture, and the lecturer doesn't offer any way for those of us listening on audio to follow along. I'm not entirely sure why this course was made available on audio in the first place.
Date published: 2018-05-23
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