Does the use of the Number Shape system combined with the Memory Palace improve memory span (in digit span tests)?

A digit span test involves the test-taker being presented a random succession of numbers (up to 12) that he needs to rewrite in the right order without dropping a number. It’s used to measure working memory (and IQ to an extent). Most people can immediately recall between 4 to 9 digits.

The tricky part seems to be how to remember the right sequence. I thought of a way to overcome this problem, but I’m not sure how well it might work (if at all) :

Say I want to optimize my working memory to its full capacity.
If I associate every number from 0 to 9 to an item resembling it, and that I put these items in their presented order in my memory palace (i.e. from the hallway to the backdoor, in sequence), while weaving everything into a brief story, would that in any way help optimize how well someone performs in the digit span test (and his working memory by extension)?


I’m sure that it’s possible to increase your score in digit span tests. Just use a well trained 2-digit system and use the images instead of single digits. With this method you can already double the score.

Just be aware that this isn’t the purpose of those tests. They are designed to measure the amount of single objects you can hold in your mind without using any mnemonics. I think this is the important factor when it comes to working memory and IQ.
Consider some of the tasks that a good working memory and above-average IQ are probably helpful at (aside from practice). For example difficult riddles, software programming, or quantum mechanics. Usually you won’t put every variable and each calculation step into a memory palace. Instead you will keep the ones that you need in your mind. This is where the memory span comes into play.

Just my two cents :slight_smile:


@Finwing is correct.

Mnemonics make use of your longterm memory, which is something else than working memory. The digit span test is also not about remembering numbers, it is about remembering things. You could replace the digits with random symbols and the test could still be used to measure working memory. If you train to memorize long sequences of numbers, it won’t affect your ability to memorize random symbols or letters or pictures etc. In other words, training to memorize long sequence of numbers will not improve your working memory.


I know. What the two-digit system does is lessen the load of items to hold in mind by dividing it by two. Learning this specific method would not only defeat the purpose of the digit span test, but the “improved working memory” wouldn’t generalize to other aspects of life either (nor would it be of any use if the numbers are replaced by other symbols on the test).

But isn’t there another way (outside of the methods I mentioned) to create immediate associations between newly learned items and sequential places in our mind palace? It doesn’t have to be just numbers.
It should be possible to put the newly learned items in predisposed locations of the mind palace in a specific sequence, be they numbers, letters, images, or words. At least I think it should work.

I heard that people with spatial-sequence synesthesia tend to perform better on memory span tests and have more optimized working memories. I don’t know if that has been proven or not, but this is what gave me the idea to create this post in the first place. Aren’t mind palaces a conscious use of spatial-sequence synesthesia?

That’s an interesting question.

Unfortunately I can only give my own view on this topic. Let’s say you plan to use a palace with twenty locations to increase the memory span to twenty. Or you make them into a story. Does this mean that all the twenty things are in your working memory when you are done?
In my experience the answer is ‘No’. When I reach the last stations, the things that I’ve stored at previous locations aren’t present in my mind anymore. I have to mentally walk back and look what it was (and hope that it’s still there). I don’t think this counts as working memory. It’s more like writing the things down and then looking at the paper.

Furthermore I don’t think that classical mnemonic training will increase working memory, or at least not so much. If this was true, people at Memory League should be able to grab more and more items at the end of a game without storing them into palaces. As far as I know this isn’t the case.

Sorry for giving unpleasing answers. But I can be wrong of course, so maybe you should just give it a try :slight_smile:

Your answers are fine, and I agree with you. It’s very likely improbable, or that the improvements on working memory might be too low. But the idea of “mind hacking” working memory to make the most use out of it still sounds fascinating to me, especially with regards to spatial-sequence synesthesia.
What I described in my previous comments is basically a combination of mnemonics but with no mental rehearsal or re-exposure.
While learning a twelve digit number in just one glance sounds a little far-fetched, it didn’t seem impossible to use sophisticated mental tricks to hold information more accurately for a few more seconds in one’s working memory.

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As others have said, what you are trying to do will work, but it will not increase your working memory really.

I would also not really say that this is particularly important. It would be more important if the function and applicability of what you are doing is maximal.

Thinking of working memory in the context of a phonological loop and visuospatial sketchpad is a lot clearer. What you were describing is kind of like using association to buffer a phonological loop (as an example), so that you can recall more with a smaller loop. This is why it would not increase working memory, but effectively would allow you to perform better on a test of memory span.

With regards to spatial-sequence synaesthesia and your approach overall. I know that if I for example perceive a number chunk to be at a certain location it enhances my short-term memory much more than if it is in the same spot. This applies to both the phonological loop and visuospatial sketchpad. The issue I have with this, is in the function. Normally when I stare at a sequence of numbers, I may spot a standard sequence pattern. If I decide to spatially distance these numbers so that I do not process them at once, in this case, while I would perfectly be able to recall each chunk, I may not be able to spot the pattern as readily. That is simply to say that some modifications to working memory operation may cause disadvantages or advantages accordingly. It is really not as simple as improving memory.

With regards to improving working memory, we almost never really exclusively use working memory. For example, all words are long-term memory as are numbers. Therefore, when you use any of these, it is extremely difficult to improve your working memory, because you would simply partly learn a chunk of sorts to reduce the load on your working memory instead. If you think about spaced repetition, it is for example common that some people improve their recall drastically, shortly after having forgotten information, the reason for this is because information is not one unit in the brain, so there would be some partial trace of it which is reactivated. When you attempt to train your working memory, you will constantly be in some sort of chaos against this, because the training intensity changes overtime.

By applicability and function, it is for example sensible that if your approach applies to everything and enhances the functionality of working memory, that it would be beneficial without drawback regardless of the fact that you are not using working memory to as large of an extent. In most cases however such things have more drawbacks than would at first be apparent, but that is really the only issue typically.

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