K. Anders Ericsson, the guru of research into expertise, makes a very convincing case for the absolutely critical importance of what he terms “deliberate practice”, and the minimal role of what is commonly termed “talent”. I have written about this question of talent and also about the principles of expertise. Here I would like to talk briefly about Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice.

In a recent news report, I talked about how walking through doorways creates event boundaries, requiring us to update our awareness of current events and making information about the previous location less available. I commented that we should be aware of the consequences of event boundaries for our memory, and how these contextual factors are important elements of our filing system. I want to talk a bit more about that.

LBD: What is it?

Lewy Body Dementia is so called because the brains of affected people develop abnormal spherical masses of protein, called Lewy bodies, inside nerve cells. Lewy bodies are associated with Parkinson’s disease as well as dementia. Thus Lewy body dementia can refer to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and “dementia with Lewy bodies”. Lewy bodies are also often found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unlike Alzheimer’s, however, dementia with Lewy bodies characteristically (but not invariably) begins with visual hallucinations.

To celebrate Māori Language Week here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), here's some mnemonics to help you learn 25 common words in te reo. These use the keyword mnemonic. Keywords are written in italics.

aroha (love), an arrow in the heart

awa (river), a water flowing

hīkoi (walk), hike

hui (gathering, meeting), a lot of hooey is spoken at meetings!

iti (small), itty bitty

Keyword mnemonic

The one mnemonic strategy that has been investigated quite extensively by researchers is the keyword mnemonic. This has been used successfully in a variety of learning areas, but its chief use has been in the area of learning vocabulary.

The story method (sometimes called the sentence mnemonic) is the most easily learned list-mnemonic strategy, although it is not as widely known as the other simple methods we’ve talked about so far.

As its name suggests, the story method involves linking words to be learned in a story. While this is most obviously useful for learning actual lists, it can also be used for remembering the main points of a passage. In such a case, you need to reduce each point to a single word, which hopefully has the power to recall the whole point.

Because it holds some personal resonance for me, my recent round-up of genetic news called to mind food allergies. Now food allergies can be tricky beasts to diagnose, and the reason is, they’re interactive. Maybe you can eat a food one day and everything’s fine; another day, you break out in hives. This is not simply a matter of the amount you have eaten, the situation is more complex than that.

To use a strategy effectively, you need to understand why it works, how it works, when it works and when it doesn’t.

For example, all students take notes — not everyone knows how to do it well. Research into the effectiveness of note-taking has found — surprise, surprise — that sometimes note-taking helps you remember information, and sometimes it doesn’t1.

Frances Yates described the memory strategy valued by the ancient Greeks and Romans as the "Art of Memory" in her widely quoted and seminal book The Art of Memory. Today we know it as the method of loci. But the Art of Memory, as those of the ancient world and those of the medieval world practiced it, is far richer than is implied by that title.

Find out about the pegword mnemonic

Here are pegwords I've thought up in the French language.

French pegword images

As with the original example, let's try it out with our cranial nerves.

En francais, les nerfs crâniens son: