1 Nature neuroscience 2003 Vol: 6(1):90-95. DOI: 10.1038/nn988

Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory.

Why do some people have superior memory capabilities? We addressed this age-old question by examining individuals renowned for outstanding memory feats in forums such as the World Memory Championships. Using neuropsychological measures, as well as structural and functional brain imaging, we found that superior memory was not driven by exceptional intellectual ability or structural brain differences. Rather, we found that superior memorizers used a spatial learning strategy, engaging brain regions such as the hippocampus that are critical for memory and for spatial memory in particular. These results illustrate how functional neuroimaging might prove valuable in delineating the neural substrates of mnemonic techniques, which could broaden the scope for memory improvement in the general population and the memory-impaired.

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Figures
Figure 1: Examples of the stimuli.(a) Three-digit numbers were presented in black font in bold at a point size of 280. (b) Faces comprised black and white photographs of a face including hair; all were male, facing forward with neutral emotional expressions. (c) Snowflakes were white on a black background, taken from Bentley and Humphreys15 and digitized (snowflakes reproduced with permission, Dover Publications Inc., New York). Figure 2: Graphic representation of the structure of a sample learning and control trial during scanning (see Methods for details).Briefly, subjects learned sequences of items (in this example, snowflakes). They were tested after each sequence on their memory for the order of items (order test) and were also advised they would be tested after scanning for item recognition. For the non-learning control trials, two stimuli were alternated in presentation, and the task was to be alert to an obvious visual blurring of one of the pictures (this occurred very rarely and is not shown in this example). Figure 3: Functional MRI results showing differences between the SMs and controls.Activations are shown on the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) structural MRI template. Activations are the result of a conjunction analysis of the contrasts presented in Table 3, and therefore show the group differences that were apparent for all stimulus types. (a) Areas more active for the SMs for all tasks: right cerebellum (18, -78, -39). (b) Areas active only in the SMs, commonly for all tasks: left medial superior parietal gyrus (-6, -69, 60), bilateral retrosplenial cortex (-12, -54, 18; 18, -57, 12) and (c) right posterior hippocampus (33, -33, -6).
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