The Method of Loci in Virtual Reality: Explicit Binding of Objects to Spatial Contexts Enhances Subsequent Memory Recall

  • Nicco ReggenteEmail author
  • Joey K. Y. Essoe
  • Hera Younji Baek
  • Jesse Rissman
Original Research


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.


Memory enhancement Method of loci Virtual reality 



The authors of this project extend an enormous gratitude to Forde “JubJub” Davidson for his countless hours of virtual scripting and design, without which this current work would not have been possible. A thanks is also sent to Majed Samad, Ph.D., for his assistance with creating PsychToolbox testing materials and to John Dell’Italia for guidance on statistical analyses.

Funding Information

This work was supported by a Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Research Grant awarded to J.R. (D13AP00057) and National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships awarded to N.R. (DGE-1650604) and J.K-Y.E. (DGE-1144087).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

41465_2019_141_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 17 kb)


  1. Astur, R. S., Purton, A. J., Zaniewski, M. J., Cimadevilla, J., & Markus, E. J. (2016). Human sex differences in solving a virtual navigation problem. Behavioural Brain Research, 308, 236–243. Scholar
  2. Balch, W. R. (2005). Elaborations of introductory psychology terms: effects on test performance and subjective ratings. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 29–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28, 117–148. Scholar
  4. Bellmund, J. L. S., Gärdenfors, P., Moser, E. I., & Doeller, C. F. (2018). Navigating cognition: spatial codes for human thinking. Science, 362, eaat6766. Scholar
  5. Benjamini, Y., & Hochberg, Y. (1995). Controlling the false discovery rate: a practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B: Methodological, 57, 289–300. Scholar
  6. Benn, Y., Bergman, O., Glazer, L., Arent, P., Wilkinson, I. D., Varley, R., et al. (2015). Navigating through digital folders uses the same brain structures as real world navigation. Scientific Reports, 5, 14719. Scholar
  7. Bjork, R. A. (1994). Memory and metamemory considerations in the training of human beings. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition Knowing about knowing, (pp 185–205). Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Black, J. B., Turner, T. J., & Bower, G. H. (1979). Point of view in narrative comprehension, memory, and production. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18, 187–198. Scholar
  9. Bouffard, N., Stokes, J., Kramer, H. J., & Ekstrom, A. D. (2018). Temporal encoding strategies result in boosts to final free recall performance comparable to spatial ones. Memory & Cognition, 46, 17–31. Scholar
  10. Bower, G. H. (1970). Analysis of a mnemonic device: modern psychology uncovers the powerful components of an ancient system for improving memory. American Scientist, 58, 496–510.Google Scholar
  11. Bower, G. H., & Reitman, J. S. (1972). Mnemonic elaboration in multilist learning. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 478–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brainard, D. H. (1997). The psychophysics toolbox. Spatial Vision, 10, 433–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brehmer, Y., Li, S.-C., Straube, B., Stoll, G., von Oertzen, T., Müller, V., et al. (2008). Comparing memory skill maintenance across the life span: preservation in adults, increase in children. Psychology and Aging, 23, 227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Briggs, G. G., Hawkins, S., & Crovitz, H. F. (1970). Bizarre images in artificial memory. Psychonomic Science, 19, 353–354. Scholar
  15. Brooks, J. O., Friedman, L., & Yesavage, J. A. (1993). A study of the problems older adults encounter when using a mnemonic technique. International Psychogeriatrics, 5, 57–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bush, D., Barry, C., Manson, D., & Burgess, N. (2015). Using grid cells for navigation. Neuron, 87, 507–520. Scholar
  17. Carney, R. N., & Levin, J. R. (1998). Mnemonic strategies for adult learners. In M. C. Smith & T. Pourchot (Eds.), Adult Learning and Development: Perspectives from Educational Psychology, (pp 159–175). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Chen, H.-Y., Gilmore, A. W., Nelson, S. M., & McDermott, K. B. (2017). Are there multiple kinds of episodic memory? An fMRI investigation comparing autobiographical and recognition memory tasks. Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 37, 2764–2775. Scholar
  19. Cohen, J., & Cohen, J. (2003). In N. J. Mahwah (Ed.), Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. Mahwah: L. Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  20. Constantinescu, A. O., O’Reilly, J. X., & Behrens, T. E. (2016). Organizing conceptual knowledge in humans with a gridlike code. Science, 352, 1464–1468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Crovitz, H. F. (1971). The capacity of memory loci in artificial memory. Psychonomic Science, 24, 187–188. Scholar
  22. Cui, X., Jeter, C. B., Yang, D., Montague, P. R., & Eagleman, D. M. (2007). Vividness of mental imagery: individual variability can be measured objectively. Vision Research, 47, 474–478. Scholar
  23. Dalgleish, T., Navrady, L., Bird, E., Hill, E., Dunn, B. D., & Golden, A.-M. (2013). Method-of-loci as a mnemonic device to facilitate access to self-affirming personal memories for individuals with depression. Clinical Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 1, 156–162. Scholar
  24. Dennett, D. C. (1993). Consciousness explained. In Penguin Adult.Google Scholar
  25. Eichenbaum, H. (2004). Hippocampus: cognitive processes and neural representations that underlie declarative memory. Neuron, 44, 109–120. Scholar
  26. Eichenbaum, H., & Cohen, N. J. (2014). Can we reconcile the declarative memory and spatial navigation views on hippocampal function? Neuron, 83, 764–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ericsson, K. A., & Kintsch, W. (1995). Long-term working memory. Psychological Review, 102, 211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ericsson, K. A., Cheng, X., Pan, Y., Ku, Y., Ge, Y., & Hu, Y. (2017). Memory skills mediating superior memory in a world-class memorist. Memory, 25, 1294–1302. Scholar
  29. Fellner, M.-C., Volberg, G., Wimber, M., Goldhacker, M., Greenlee, M. W., & Hanslmayr, S. (2016). Spatial mnemonic encoding: theta power decreases and medial temporal lobe BOLD increases co-occur during the usage of the method of loci. eNeuro, 3.
  30. Fisher, N. J., & Deluca, J. W. (1997). Verbal learning strategies of adolescents and adults with the syndrome of nonverbal learning disabilities. Child Neuropsychology, 3, 192–198. Scholar
  31. Foer, J. (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein: the art and science of remembering everything. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  32. Fox, J., Bailenson, J., & Binney, J. (2009). Virtual experiences, physical behaviors: the effect of presence on imitation of an eating avatar. Presence Teleoperators Virtual Environ., 18, 294–303. Scholar
  33. Hafting, T., Fyhn, M., Molden, S., Moser, M.-B., & Moser, E. I. (2005). Microstructure of a spatial map in the entorhinal cortex. Nature, 436, 801–806. Scholar
  34. Hamann, S. (2001). Cognitive and neural mechanisms of emotional memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 394–400. Scholar
  35. Harnadek, M. C., & Rourke, B. P. (1994). Principal identifying features of the syndrome of nonverbal learning disabilities in children. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27, 144–154. Scholar
  36. Harris, P. A., Taylor, R., Thielke, R., Payne, J., Gonzalez, N., & Conde, J. G. (2009). Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap)—a metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 42, 377–381. Scholar
  37. Hassabis, D., & Maguire, E. A. (2007). Deconstructing episodic memory with construction. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 299–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hassabis, D., & Maguire, E. A. (2009). The construction system of the brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 364, 1263–1271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hebscher, M., Levine, B., & Gilboa, A. (2017). The precuneus and hippocampus contribute to individual differences in the unfolding of spatial representations during episodic autobiographical memory. Neuropsychologia, 110, 123–133. Chicago.Google Scholar
  40. Herrmann, D. J., Geisler, F. V., & Atkinson, R. C. (1973). The serial position function for lists learned by a narrative-story mnemonic. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 2, 377–378. Scholar
  41. Horner, A. J., Bisby, J. A., Wang, A., Bogus, K., & Burgess, N. (2016). The role of spatial boundaries in shaping long-term event representations. Cognition, 154, 151–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hu, Y., & Ericsson, K. A. (2012). Memorization and recall of very long lists accounted for within the long-term working memory framework. Cognitive Psychology, 64, 235–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hu, Y., Ericsson, K. A., Yang, D., & Lu, C. (2009). Superior self-paced memorization of digits in spite of a normal digit span: the structure of a memorist’s skill. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 1426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jacobs, L. F., & Schenk, F. (2003). Unpacking the cognitive map: the parallel map theory of hippocampal function. Psychological Review110, 285–315.
  45. Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L., III. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: do students practise retrieval when they study on their own? Memory, 17, 471–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kliegl, R., Smith, J., & Baltes, P. B. (1990). On the locus and process of magnification of age differences during mnemonic training. Developmental Psychology, 26, 894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kondo, Y., Suzuki, M., Mugikura, S., Abe, N., Takahashi, S., Iijima, T., et al. (2005). Changes in brain activation associated with use of a memory strategy: a functional MRI study. NeuroImage, 24, 1154–1163. Scholar
  48. Kosslyn, S. M., Brunn, J., Cave, K. R., & Wallach, R. W. (1984). Individual differences in mental imagery ability: a computational analysis. Cognition, 18, 195–243. Scholar
  49. Lawton, C. A. (1994). Gender differences in way-finding strategies: relationship to spatial ability and spatial anxiety. Sex Roles, 30, 765–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lee, I. A., & Preacher, K. J (2013). Calculation for the test of the difference between two dependent correlations with one variable in common. Available at: Accessed March 18 2018.
  51. Legge, E. L. G., Madan, C. R., Ng, E. T., & Caplan, J. B. (2012). Building a memory palace in minutes: equivalent memory performance using virtual versus conventional environments with the method of loci. Acta Psychologica, 141, 380–390. Scholar
  52. Levin, J. R. (1983). Pictorial strategies for school learning: practical illustrations. In Cognitive Strategy Research Springer Series in Cognitive Development (pp. 213–237). New York, NY: Springer. Google Scholar
  53. Llinás, R. R. (2001). I of the vortex: from neurons to self. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Llinas, R., & Ribary, U. (2001). Consciousness and the brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 929, 166–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Maguire, E. A., & Mullally, S. L. (2013). The Hippocampus: a manifesto for change. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 142, 1180–1189. Scholar
  56. Maguire, E. A., Valentine, E. R., Wilding, J. M., & Kapur, N. (2003). Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience, 6, 90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Martell, R. F., & Willis, C. E. (1993). Effects of observers′ performance expectations on behavior ratings of work groups: memory or response bias? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 56, 91–109. Scholar
  58. McCabe, J. A. (2015). Location, location, location! Demonstrating the mnemonic benefit of the method of loci. Teaching of Psychology, 42, 169–173. Scholar
  59. McCabe, J. A., Osha, K. L., Roche, J. A., & Susser, J. A. (2013). Psychology students’ knowledge and use of mnemonics. Teaching of Psychology, 40, 183–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Merriman, N. A., Ondřej, J., Roudaia, E., O’Sullivan, C., & Newell, F. N. (2016). Familiar environments enhance object and spatial memory in both younger and older adults. Experimental Brain Research, 234, 1555–1574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Moè, A., & De Beni, R. (2005). Stressing the efficacy of the loci method: oral presentation and the subject-generation of the loci pathway with expository passages. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 95–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Moscovitch, M., Cabeza, R., Winocur, G., & Nadel, L. (2016). Episodic memory and beyond: the hippocampus and neocortex in transformation. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 105–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mullally, S. L., & Maguire, E. A. (2014). Memory, imagination, and predicting the future: a common brain mechanism? The Neuroscientist, 20, 220–234. Scholar
  64. Murray, E. A., Wise, S. P., & Graham, K. S. (2018). Representational specializations of the hippocampus in phylogenetic perspective. Neuroscience Letters, 680, 4–12. Scholar
  65. Nelson, D. L., Reed, V. S., & Walling, J. R. (1976). Pictorial superiority effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology [Human Learning and Memory], 2, 523–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. O’Keefe, J., & Nadel, L. (1978). The hippocampus as a cognitive map. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Paivio, A., & Csapo, K. (1973). Picture superiority in free recall: imagery or dual coding? Cognitive Psychology, 5, 176–206. Scholar
  68. Persson, J., Herlitz, A., Engman, J., Morell, A., Sjölie, D., Wikström, J., et al. (2013). Remembering our origin: gender differences in spatial memory are reflected in gender differences in hippocampal lateralization. Behavioural Brain Research, 256, 219–228. Scholar
  69. Preacher, K. J. (2002). Calculation for the test of the difference between two independent correlation coefficients. Available at: Accessed March 18, 2018.
  70. Pyc, M. A., & Rawson, K. A. (2009). Testing the retrieval effort hypothesis: does greater difficulty correctly recalling information lead to higher levels of memory? Journal of Memory and Language, 60, 437–447. Scholar
  71. Qureshi, A., Rizvi, F., Syed, A., Shahid, A., & Manzoor, H. (2014). The method of loci as a mnemonic device to facilitate learning in endocrinology leads to improvement in student performance as measured by assessments. Advances in Physiology Education, 38, 140–144. Scholar
  72. R Core Team. (2013). R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing Available at: Scholar
  73. Rahman, Q., Andersson, D., & Govier, E. (2005). A specific sexual orientation-related difference in navigation strategy. Behavioral Neuroscience, 119, 311–316. Scholar
  74. Rapp, S., Brenes, G., & Marsh, A. P. (2002). Memory enhancement training for older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a preliminary study. Aging & Mental Health, 6, (1), 5–11.
  75. Reggente, N., Essoe, J. K.-Y., Aghajan, Z. M., Tavakoli, A. V., McGuire, J. F., Suthana, N. A., et al. (2018). Enhancing the ecological validity of fMRI memory research using virtual reality. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12.
  76. Richardson, J. T. (1995). The efficacy of imagery mnemonics in memory remediation. Neuropsychologia, 33, 1345–1357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rissman, J., & Wagner, A. D. (2012). Distributed representations in memory: insights from functional brain imaging. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 101–128. Scholar
  78. Robin, J. (2018). Spatial scaffold effects in event memory and imagination. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 9, e1462. Scholar
  79. Robin, J., Wynn, J., & Moscovitch, M. (2016). The spatial scaffold: the effects of spatial context on memory for events. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42, 308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Robin, J., Buchsbaum, B. R., & Moscovitch, M. (2018). The primacy of spatial context in the neural representation of events. Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience.
  81. Roediger, H. L. (1980). The effectiveness of four mnemonics in ordering recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology [Human Learning], 6, 558–567. Scholar
  82. Rogers, T. B., Kuiper, N. A., & Kirker, W. S. (1977). Self-reference and the encoding of personal information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Ross, J., & Lawrence, K. A. (1968). Some observations on memory artifice. Psychonomic Science, 13, 107–108. Scholar
  84. Rummel, J., & Meiser, T. (2013). The role of metacognition in prospective memory: anticipated task demands influence attention allocation strategies. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 931–943. Scholar
  85. Sandstrom, N. J., Kaufman, J., & Huettel, S. A. (1998). Males and females use different distal cues in a virtual environment navigation task. Brain Research. Cognitive Brain Research, 6, 351–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Scoville, W. B., & Milner, B. (1957). Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 20, 11–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Shimamura, A. P. (1984). A guide for teaching mnemonic skills. Teaching of Psychology, 11, 162–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Slater, M., Usoh, M., & Steed, A. (1994). Depth of presence in virtual environments. Presence Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 3, 130–144. Scholar
  89. Slater, M., Usoh, M., & Chrysanthou, Y. (1995a). The influence of dynamic shadows on presence in immersive virtual environments. In Virtual environments’ 95 (pp. 8–21). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Slater, M., Usoh, M., & Steed, A. (1995b). Taking steps: the influence of a walking technique on presence in virtual reality. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction TOCHI, 2, 201–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Slater, M., McCarthy, J., & Maringelli, F. (1998). The influence of body movement on subjective presence in virtual environments. Human Factors, 40, 469–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Squire, L. R. (1992). Memory and the hippocampus: a synthesis from findings with rats, monkeys, and humans. Psychological Review, 99, 195–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Squire, L. R., & Zola, S. M. (1996). Structure and function of declarative and nondeclarative memory systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 93, 13515–13522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Steiger, J. H. (1980). Tests for comparing elements of a correlation matrix. Psychological Bulletin, 87, 245–251. Scholar
  95. Stricker, J. L., Brown, G. G., Wixted, J., Baldo, J. V., & Delis, D. C. (2002). New semantic and serial clustering indices for the California Verbal Learning Test-Second Edition: background, rationale, and formulae. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society JINS, 8, 425–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Susser, J. A., & McCabe, J. (2013). From the lab to the dorm room: metacognitive awareness and use of spaced study. Instructional Science, 41, 345–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Sutcliffe, J. S., Marshall, K. M., & Neill, J. C. (2007). Influence of gender on working and spatial memory in the novel object recognition task in the rat. Behavioural Brain Research, 177, 117–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Tate, R. L. (1997). Subject review: beyond one-bun, two-shoe: recent advances in the psychological rehabilitation of memory disorders after acquired brain injury. Brain Injury, 11, 907–918.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. The Mathworks, Inc. (2012). MATLAB and Statistics Toolbox. Natick, Massachussetts, United States.Google Scholar
  100. Tulving, E. (2002). Episodic memory: from mind to brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Tulving, E., & Markowitsch, H. J. (1998). Episodic and declarative memory: role of the hippocampus. Hippocampus, 8, 198–204.<198::AID-HIPO2>3.0.CO;2-G.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Vargha-Khadem, F., Gadian, D. G., Watkins, K. E., Connelly, A., Van Paesschen, W., & Mishkin, M. (1997). Differential effects of early hippocampal pathology on episodic and semantic memory. Science, 277, 376–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Verhaeghen, P., Marcoen, A., & Goossens, L. (1992). Improving memory performance in the aged through mnemonic training: a meta-analytic study. Psychology and Aging, 7, 242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Voss, J. L., Gonsalves, B. D., Federmeier, K. D., Tranel, D., & Cohen, N. J. (2011). Hippocampal brain-network coordination during volitional exploratory behavior enhances learning. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 115. Scholar
  105. Werner-Seidler, A., & Dalgleish, T. (2016). The method of loci improves longer-term retention of self-affirming memories and facilitates access to mood-repairing memories in recurrent depression. Clinical Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 4, 1065–1072. Scholar
  106. West, R. L. (1995). Compensatory strategies for age-associated memory impairment. In A. D. Baddeley, B. A. Wilson, & F. N. Watts (Eds.), Handbook of memory disorders (pp. 481–500). Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  107. Wolpert, D. M., & Ghahramani, Z. (2000). Computational principles of movement neuroscience. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 1212–1217. Scholar
  108. Yates, F. A. (1966). The art of memory (6th ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  109. Yesavage, J. A. (1983). Imagery pretraining and memory training in the elderly. Gerontology, 29, 271–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral SciencesUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations