The Method of Loci in Virtual Reality: Explicit Binding of Objects to Spatial Contexts Enhances Subsequent Memory Recall
The method of loci (MoL) is a well-known mnemonic technique in which visuospatial spatial environments are used to scaffold the memorization of non-spatial information. We developed a novel virtual reality-based implementation of the MoL in which participants used three unique virtual environments to serve as their “memory palaces.” In each world, participants were presented with a sequence of 15 3D objects that appeared in front of their avatar for 20 s each. The experimental group (N = 30) was given the ability to click on each object to lock it in place, whereas the control group (N = 30) was not afforded this functionality. We found that despite matched engagement, exposure duration, and instructions emphasizing the efficacy of the mnemonic across groups, participants in the experimental group recalled 28% more objects. We also observed a strong relationship between spatial memory for objects and landmarks in the environment and verbal recall strength. These results provide evidence for spatially mediated processes underlying the effectiveness of the MoL and contribute to theoretical models of memory that emphasize spatial encoding as the primary currency of mnemonic function.
This study was designed to both (a) test the hypothesis that the binding of information to a spatial scaffolding underlies the effectiveness of the MoL and (b) provide proof-of-concept for a user-friendly technology that mandates subject compliance in use of the MoL. The current investigation leverages virtual reality (VR), allowing participants to readily implement an MoL-based encoding strategy without the reliance on mental imagery. By providing a novel and common set of environments for participants, this study’s VR-based paradigm mitigates the discussed concerns regarding individual differences in mental imagery, environmental size, complexity, and exposure time. Furthermore, VR serves as a particularly viable medium for increasing the ecological validity of memory experiments in general (Reggente et al. 2018) and allows for the control and capture of experimental details (e.g., exposure time and place of each seen object).
The findings add important empirical evidence to the conversation surrounding the primacy of spatial contexts in encoding (see Robin 2018) and the recruitment of spatial processing codes for cognition (Bellmund et al. 2018).
Spatial memory for both objects encountered in the virtual environments (as determined by participant placement on a bird’s eye view of the map following encoding)correlated strongly with free recall memory for those same objects. Spatial memory for landmarks found within the environment also showed a relationship with free recall.
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Journal of Cognitive Enhancement
Reggente, Nicco, et al. “The Method of Loci in Virtual Reality: Explicit Binding of Objects to Spatial Contexts Enhances Subsequent Memory Recall.” Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (2019): 1-19.
Reggente, N., Essoe, J. K., Baek, H. Y., & Rissman, J. (2019). The Method of Loci in Virtual Reality: Explicit Binding of Objects to Spatial Contexts Enhances Subsequent Memory Recall. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 1-19.
Reggente, Nicco, Joey KY Essoe, Hera Younji Baek, and Jesse Rissman. “The Method of Loci in Virtual Reality: Explicit Binding of Objects to Spatial Contexts Enhances Subsequent Memory Recall.” Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (2019): 1-19.