Introduction to Memory Systems
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LOCI - The Roman Room & The Familian Path
Now that you have come to understand the role of association in the memory process lets talk about another memory technique brought to us courtesy of the Greeks.

The Roman Room and The Familiar Path are classic techniques that combine the use of organization, visual imagery, and association. They are ideal for remembering short lists of approximately 10 items. The items can be specific things or other mnemonic triggers. It was a popular system used by ancient orators to deliver speeches.

The Roman Room
There are two basic approaches to using this technique but it works the same way in either case. You can create both temporary and permanent Roman Rooms in your mind or you can create a temporary Roman Room based on a physical location where you want to recall the information.

To create Roman Rooms in your mind you must picture a room and identify key locations within the room. The number is up to you but we recommend initially that you keep it to 10 or less. As you master the technique you can expand the number to the limits of your ability. The locations within the room must be thoroughly committed to memory based on the techniques you have already learned. The room can be based on a real room you are familiar with or an imaginary room created for a specific purpose.

A Roman Room based on a kitchen might contain:
Location 1 - Door
Location 2 - Sink
Location 3 - Cupboard
Location 4 - Stove
Location 5 - Refrigerator
Location 6 - Dishwasher
Location 7 - Table
Location 8 - Light Fixture
Location 9 - Toaster
Location 10 - Coffee Maker
Once you have your locations firmly committed to memory you can begin to place the items you wish to remember in the locations throughout the room. Lets add this list of 10 items and then build the associations you can use to help recall them:
  1. Book
  2. Electric Fan
  3. Cow
  4. Sunflower
  5. Rope
  6. Music CD
  7. Screwdriver
  8. Suitcase
  9. Checkbook
  10. Watermelon
Hardly 10 items that can easily be categorized. Now lets put them in the room using our skills for encoding vivid associations.
  • You enter your Roman Room.
  • When you look at the door you see it has been transformed into the cover of the book. The title is Improve Your memory. In the sink you see an electric fan. It is using a scrub brush to clean its blades which is filling the sink with soap bubbles.
  • When you look at the cupboard you see a tail hanging out of the door. You open the door and there is a cow jammed in between the shelves.
  • On the stove is a pot full of sunflowers wearing sunglasses. They are telling you to turn up the heat.
  • When you try to open the refrigerator you can’t because it is tied shut with a thick heavy rope.
  • There is music coming from the dishwasher and when you open the door you see rows of shiny clean CDs.
  • The table has one of its legs missing and in its place holding up the table is a giant screwdriver.
  • When you turn on the light you notice the room is very dim. The problem is that someone covered the fixture with a suitcase.
  • The Toaster just popped up. Instead of bread it has dollar bills in one slot and your checkbook in the other slot.
  • And finally you go to pour a cup of coffee and notice a watermelon sticking out of the pot. Somebody was trying to make watermelon flavored coffee. Hmmm not bad.
Remember, the more vivid the associations you make between the locations in the room (the things you already know) with the things you want to remember the easier the retrieval will be.

You can create as many rooms as you like and use them as needed. For lists you don’t need to commit to long-term memory you can use a temporary ‘room’. For instance if you were heading to the beach and wanted to remember a list of items to take with you could create a temporary room using your automobile. Pick as many locations as you needed such as the glove box, steering wheel, dash, backseat, etc. and place your items in these locations. Then review the room before you leave to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

The other approach to using the Roman Room technique is to use the actual room where you will need to recall the items or memory triggers. This can be particularly useful if you are delivering a speech or making a presentation. The less you refer to written notes the greater the respect you will gain from the audience.

If for example your speech or presentation consisted of 8 key points you could identify 8 locations around the room (clockwise is a good idea if you want to remember them in order). Then encode the key points of your speech to each of these locations. Once you have formed strong associations you will be able to relax and focus your energies on the audience knowing that the contents of your speech are there before you, spread throughout the room.

The Familiar Path
The Familiar Path is almost identical to the Roman Room technique except that as the name implies a path or journey is used to establish the locations that you will use to form the associations.

Again, you can have one path or many. Some for storing long-term memories and some for temporary memories. The path can be real as in a path through your home, a path to work, a path through a park, etc. or it can be an imaginary path.

The Familiar Path has a slight advantage for being able to memorize items in sequence because the path will have a definite beginning and end. However, you can achieve the same results with the Room system if you always define a start and follow a specific rotation. Choosing to use a room or a path is one of personal preference.

The success of the Roman Room and Familiar path technique depends on how well you encode the key locations and build the associations. You must really see the items in the locations and make them vivid and memorable. Be sure to use the elaboration methods of Substitution, Comedy, Action, Pleasant, and Exaggeration.

Quick Review:
  • The Roman Room and Familiar Path memory techniques are ideal for short lists.
  • Rooms and paths can be real or imaginary.
  • Locations within the rooms or along the paths must be thoroughly committed to memory.
  • Use elaboration to associate the items to the locations.
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