E-Pearl of the Week: The Art of Memory Revisited

February 7, 2013


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February 6, 2013

The Art of Memory Revisited

It has been known since 477 B.C. that a system of vivid visual association or mnemonics greatly increases memory. Forming a mental picture constructed of items to be memorized also greatly decreases the serial position effect, a phenomenon in which one remembers items at the beginning and end of a list but forgets those in the middle. Take for instance, memorizing the differential diagnosis for myopathy. Begin by thinking of the primary camps for the myopathies: Inflammatory, Congenital, Toxic, Metabolic, Muscular Dystrophies, Endocrine, and Periodic Paralysis. Next form a vivid visual image using either the words themselves or the first letters of the words constructed into a visual sentence. Using the above list: "I (inflammatory) Come (congenital) To (toxic) Meet (Metabolic) My (Muscular Dystrophies) Endo (Endocrine) Periodically (Periodic Paralysis)." Now picture yourself running to meet your Endocrinologist, only your stride is intermittently slow because of weakness secondary to your myopathy. Continue this pattern with word images for each sub-category and you will easily recall this complex differential.


  1. Patten BM. The Ancient Art of Memory. Arch Neurol 1972; 26: 25-31.
  2. Preston DC, Shapiro BM. Electromyography and Neuromuscular Disorders, second edition. Philadelphia, 2005.

Submitted by: Jonathan Beary, D.O., Neurology Resident, Cleveland Clinic

Disclosure: Dr. Beary reports no disclosures.

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