Memory sport, sometimes referred to as competitive memory or the mind sport of memory, is a competition in which participants attempt to memorize the most information that they can then present back, under certain guidelines. The sport has been formally developed since 1991, and features regional and international championships.
One common type of competition involves memorizing the order of randomized cards in as little time as possible, after which the competitor is required to arrange new decks of cards in the same order.
Mnemonic techniques are generally considered to be a necessary part of competition, and are improved through extensive practice. These can include the method of loci, the use of mnemonic linking and chunking, or other techniques for storage and retrieval of information.
Techniques for training memory are discussed as far back as Ancient Greece, and formal memory training was long considered an important part of basic education known as the art of memory. However, the development of trained memorization into a sport is only a development of the late 20th century, and even then has remained relatively limited in scope. The first worldwide competition was held as the World Memory Championships in 1991, and has been held again in every year since.
Following the establishment of the World Memory Championships in 1991, regional competitions have been set up in numerous countries. These include the U.S. Championships, which started in 1997, the Indian National Memory Championships, the German Memory Championships, and the UK Open Memory Championships. Other countries with national championships include South Africa, Australia, Singapore, China, Japan and Mexico.
The highest designation set up by the World Memory Sports Council, which organizes the World Memory Championships, is the Grand Master of Memory. Joshua Foer wrote in 2005 that there were 36 Grand Masters in the world, including one in the United States.
Competitors describe numerous methods and techniques for improving their memorization skills, with some having published and named their specific methods. These include, for instance, the Mnemonic dominic system, named after former World Champion Dominic O'Brien, the Mnemonic major system, as well as the Person-Action-Object System which involves encoding cards and numbers into sequences of persons, actions, and objects. These methods are sometimes referred to as "mnemotechnics."
Joshua Foer has written, "Though every competitor has his own unique method of memorization for each event, all mnemonic techniques are essentially based on the concept of elaborative encoding, which holds that the more meaningful something is, the easier it is to remember."
While the potential subject matter for memory competitions could be limitless, the World Memory Championships feature ten specific tests as follows:
- One Hours Numbers (23712892....)
- 5 Minute Numbers
- Spoken Numbers, read out one per second
- 30 Minutes Binary Digits (011100110001001....)
- One Hour Playing Cards (as many decks of cards as possible)
- Random Lists of Words (House, playing, Orphan, Encyclopedia....)
- Names and Faces (15 minutes, world record: 195 names)
- 5min Historic Dates (fictional events and historic years)
- Abstract Images (black and white randomly generated spots)
- Speed Cards - Always the last discipline. Memorize the order of one shuffled deck of 52 playing cards as fast as possible. World record: 21.90 seconds.
Other types of memory competitions may not feature timed events. For instance, records for the memorization of π (known as piphilology) have been recorded since the 1970s, with the current record holder having produced from memory more than 60,000 digits.
Memory sport is continuing to have its records broken rapidly. A recent world speed record for memorizing a deck of cards was 21.19 seconds, held by Simon Reinhard of Germany. A recent world record for the most digits memorized in five minutes was 500.
- Chunking (psychology)
- Eidetic memory
- Exceptional memory
- Haraguchi's mnemonic system
- Interference theory
- Method of loci
- Mnemonic dominic system
- Mnemonic goroawase system
- Mnemonic link system
- Mnemonic major system
- Mnemonic peg system
- Serial position effect
- Spacing effect
- The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two
- Von Restorff effect
- Zeigarnik effect
- List of Memory Competitions
- Forget Me Not: How to win the U.S. memory championship, by Joshua Foer. Slate. Wednesday, March 16, 2005.
- Person-Action-Object (PAO) System
- World Memory Championships website
- World Memory Olympics website
- USA National Memory Championships
- Memory Techniques from Australian Memory Champion Tansel Ali
- Exceptional memorizers: made, not born, by K. Anders Ericsson
- Official Memory Training Tool of World Memory Championship
- Memory Techniques Wiki