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Mnemonic learning is the use of associative learning strategies to improve learning, memory, recall and recognition of learned material.

A mnemonic (pronounced [nəˈmɑnɪk] in American English, [nəˈmɒnɪk] in British English) is a memory aid. Mnemonics are often verbal, something such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something. They are often used to remember lists. Mnemonics rely not only on repetition to remember facts, but also on associations between easy-to-remember constructs and lists of data, based on the principle that the human mind much more easily remembers data attached to spatial, personal or otherwise meaningful information than that occurring in meaningless sequences. The sequences must make sense though. If a random mnemonic is made up, it is not necessarily a memory aid.

The word mnemonic shares etymology with Mnemosyne, the name of the titan who personified Memory in Greek mythology. The first known reference to mnemonics is the method of loci described in Cicero's De Oratore.

The major assumption is that there are two sorts of memory: the "natural" memory and the "artificial" memory. The former is inborn, and is the one that everyone uses every day. The artificial memory is one that is trained through learning and practicing a variety of mnemonic techniques. The latter can be used to perform feats of memory that are quite extraordinary, impossible to carry out using the natural memory alone.


A mnemonic technique is one of many memory aids that is used to create associations among facts that make it easier to remember these facts. Rhyming in poetry has been used since ancient times as a memory aid. For recalling items in a fixed sequence peg lists are especially useful. This method can be applied to unordered lists of things, as well, and can be used to ensure that no item is left out. The method of loci is similar in that ordered lists are the target, but it relies on placing vivid emotive images onto images of places which one has previously visited repeatedly in a particular order. The major system, or phonetic number system can be used to replace the memory of numbers with the memory of sequences of words or images.

Other methods for remembering arbitrary numbers or number sequences use numerological (lit. number+word) systems such as the abjad, where each numeral is represented by a consonant sound.

All of these can be used with the method of substitute words, which replaces an abstract or not easily visualized word or concept with one that is associated with an emotive or striking word. For example, in memorizing the periodic table, boron (which has no image associated with it that one can recall) might be associated with the substitute word "bore." Everyone has a friend who is a bore, and he would be visualized in this connection. Silicon becomes "silly con," and so on.

These techniques appear to make use of the power of the visual cortex to somehow make the memories more readily fixed in one's mind, and last longer than ordinary memories. For example, a number can be remembered as a picture. This makes it easier to retrieve it from memory. Mnemonic techniques should be used in conjunction with active recall to actually be beneficial. For example, it is not enough to look at a mind map; one needs to actively reconstruct it in one's memory. These systems take advantage of the memory's ability to store more information by organizing it into "chunks". Concentration and repetition are still required, though not as much.

Number rhyme system

This is an example of a "peg list". It is useful for remembering ordered lists, especially for people with strong auditory learning styles. The following numbered list is static. Note the rhyme of the digit and the word (one/bun, two/glue, and so on). The items you wish to remember should be associated with each word. A similar system utilizing a combination of this and the preceding "abjad" system can easily yield numbers through 100 or higher.

  1. Bun
  2. Glue
  3. Tea
  4. Door
  5. Hive
  6. Bricks
  7. Heaven
  8. Slate
  9. Line
  10. Pen
  11. Devon
  12. Delve
  13. Obscene
  14. Cuisine
  15. Serene

and so on.

Egg and spear or number shape system

This is another peg system, much like the number-rhyme system but more suitable for those with visual learning styles (a one looks like a candle; a two looks like a swan, and so on).

  1. Candle, spear
  2. Swan
  3. Bosom
  4. Sail
  5. Hook
  6. Club
  7. Cliff
  8. Hourglass
  9. Flag
  10. A Candle next to an Egg

Visual mnemonics

Visual mnemonics are very popular in medicine as well as other fields. In this technique, an image portrays characters or objects whose name sounds like the item that has to be memorized. This object then interacts with other similarly portrayed objects that in turn represent associated information.

Examples of simple first letter mnemonics

One common mnemonic device for remembering lists consists of an easily remembered word, phrase, or rhyme whose first letters or are associated with the list items. The idea lends itself well to memorizing hard-to-break passwords as well.

Science and technology

Biology, medicine, and anatomy

Medical mnemonics are quite common, see [1]. Some of them are less politically correct than others, and some are profane (presumably because their shock value makes them easier to remember). The list below doesn't censor, but in some cases does provide "clean" alternatives.

An example of a visual mnemonic for the drug "hydralazine" could be represented as "lazy hydra" that is on strike holding a sign "NO more work". "NO" in the above case symbolizes Nitrous oxide, which is related to the drug's mechanism of action. For examples of this technique, see [2].

Cranial nerves
(The letters stand for Olfactory nerve, Optic nerve, Occulomotor nerve, Trochlear nerve, Trigeminal nerve, Abducent nerve, Facial nerve, Auditory nerve, Glossopharyngeal nerve, Vagus nerve, Accessory nerve, and Hypoglossal nerve.)

In the ones marked with a "@", the accessory nerve is referred to by its alternate name "Spinal accessory nerve". In the ones marked with "#" the Auditory nerve is referred to by its alternate nane "Vestibulocochlear nerve".

  • "Ooh, Ooh, Ooh To Touch And Feel Very Good Velvet. Such Heaven!" @
  • "On Old Olympus' Towering Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops" @
  • "On Old Olympus' Tiny Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops", or "On Old Olympus' Towering Top A Finely Vested German Viewed A Hawk" (with variations; some say "terraced tops", "towering top(s)" or "topmost top", and "viewed some hops" is sometimes rendered as "vaulted a hedge").

Another to help remember the types of information these nerves carry (sensory, motor, or both) is thus: Some Say Marry Money, But My Brother Says Big Brains Matter More.
On Old Olympus' Tiny Tops A Friendly Viking Grew Vines and Hops

External carotid artery branches
(The letters stand for superior thyroid artery, ascending pharyngeal artery, lingual artery, facial artery, occipital artery, posterior auricular artery, superficial temporal artery, and maxillary artery)
  • "Some Anatomists Like Fucking, Others Prefer S & M"
Biological groupings in taxonomy
(The letters stand for Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.)
  • "Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Satin"
  • "Knights Play Chess On Fat Glass Stools"
  • "Kirsten Puts Cats Over Family Generally Speaking"
  • "King Phillip Came Over From Germany Soaked"
  • "Kids Playing Carelessly On Freeways Get Splattered"
  • Or, if you were feeling in a certain way, "Kinky People Can Often Find Good Sex
    • "Kids Playing Carelessly On Freeways Get Splattered"
DNA characteristics

Many biology students use the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to assist in remembering the characteristics of DNA:
We love DNA,
Made of nucleotides,
A phosphate, sugar and a base,
Bonded down one side.

Adenine and Thymine,
Make a lovely pair,
Guanine without Cytosine,
Would be rather bare.

Other mnemonic systems

Arbitrariness of mnemonics

A curious characteristic of many memory systems is that mnemonics work despite being (or possibly because of being) illogical or arbitrary. "Roy" is a legitimate first name, but there is no actual surname. "Biv" and of course the middle initial "G" is arbitrary. Why is "Roy G. Biv" easy to remember in order to memorise the order that the seven colours of the rainbow appear? ROYGBIV can also be expressed as the almost meaningless phrase "Roy Great Britain the Fourth" again referencing "Roy" but using the GB national code for Great Britain and the Roman numerals for 4, viz: IV. The sentence "Richard of York gave battle in vain" is commonly used in the UK. Any two of the three months ending in -ember would fit just as euphoniously as September and November in "Thirty days hath...", yet most people can remember the rhyme correctly for a lifetime after having heard it once, and are never troubled by doubts as to which two of the -ember months have thirty days. A bizarre arbitrary association may stick in the mind better than a logical one.

One reason for the effectiveness of seemingly arbitrary mnemonics is the grouping of information provided by the mnemonic. Just as US phone numbers group 10 digits into three groups, the name "Roy G. Biv" groups seven colors into two short names and an initial. Various studies (most notably The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two) have shown that the human brain is capable of remembering only a limited number of arbitrary items in working memory; grouping these items into chunks permits the brain to hold more of them in memory.

Mnemonics in foreign language acquisition

Mnemonics can be helpful in studying a foreign language, for example by adapting a foreign word that is hard to remember to a pre-existent phrase in the learner's native language - using folk etymology. Linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann has proposed many Anglo-Hebraic lexical mnemonics for English-speaking students of Israeli Hebrew. For example, in trying to assist the learner to remember ohel, the Hebrew word for tent, Zuckermann proposes the memorable sentence "Oh hell, there's a raccoon in my tent". The memorable sentence "There's a fork in Ma’s leg" may help the learner remember that the Hebrew word for fork is mazleg, and so forth.[1] The notable linguist Michel Thomas taught students to remember that estar is the Spanish word for to be by using the phrase "to be a star, of course".

History of mnemonics

See the Art of Memory.

See the Method of Loci.

See also



External links


Types of memory
Articulatory suppression‎ | Auditory memory | Autobiographical memory | Collective memory | Early memories | Echoic Memory | Eidetic memory | Episodic memory | Episodic-like memory  | Explicit memory  |Exosomatic memory | False memory |Flashbulb memory | Iconic memory | Implicit memory | Institutional memory | Long term memory | Music-related memory | Procedural memory | Prospective memory | Repressed memory | Retrospective memory | Semantic memory | Sensory memory | Short term memory | Spatial memory | State-dependent memory | Tonal memory | Transactive memory | Transsaccadic memory | Verbal memory  | Visual memory  | Visuospatial memory  | Working memory  |
Aspects of memory
Childhood amnesia | Cryptomnesia |Cued recall | Eye-witness testimony | Memory and emotion | Forgetting |Forgetting curve | Free recall | Levels-of-processing effect | Memory consolidation |Memory decay | Memory distrust syndrome |Memory inhibition | Memory and smell | Memory for the future | Memory loss | Memory optimization | Memory trace | Mnemonic | Memory biases  | Modality effect | Tip of the tongue | Lethologica | Memory loss |Priming | Primacy effect | Reconstruction | Proactive interference | Prompting | Recency effect | Recall (learning) | Recognition (learning) | Reminiscence | Retention | Retroactive interference | Serial position effect | Serial recall | Source amnesia |
Memory theory
Atkinson-Shiffrin | Baddeley | CLARION | Decay theory | Dual-coding theory | Interference theory |Memory consolidation | Memory encoding | Memory-prediction framework | Forgetting | Recall | Recognition |
Method of loci | Mnemonic room system | Mnemonic dominic system | Mnemonic learning | Mnemonic link system |Mnemonic major system | Mnemonic peg system | [[]] |[[]] |
Neuroanatomy of memory
Amygdala | Hippocampus | prefrontal cortex  | Neurobiology of working memory | Neurophysiology of memory | Rhinal cortex | Synapses |[[]] |
Neurochemistry of memory
Glutamatergic system  | of short term memory | [[]] |[[]] | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |[[]] |
Developmental aspects of memory
Prenatal memory | |Childhood memory | Memory and aging | [[]] | [[]] |
Memory in clinical settings
Alcohol amnestic disorder | Amnesia | Dissociative fugue | False memory syndrome | False memory | Hyperthymesia | Memory and aging | Memory disorders | Memory distrust syndrome  Repressed memory  Traumatic memory |
Retention measures
Benton | CAMPROMPT | Implicit memory testing | Indirect tests of memory | MAS | Memory tests for children | MERMER | Rey-15 | Rivermead | TOMM | Wechsler | WMT | WRAML2 |
Treating memory problems
CBT | EMDR | Psychotherapy | Recovered memory therapy |Reminiscence therapy | Memory clinic | Memory training | Rewind technique |
Prominant workers in memory|-
Baddeley | Broadbent |Ebbinghaus  | Kandel |McGaugh | Schacter  | Treisman | Tulving  |
Philosophy and historical views of memory
Aristotle | [[]] |[[]] |[[]] |[[]] | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |
Journals | Learning, Memory, and Cognition |Journal of Memory and Language |Memory |Memory and Cognition | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |

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