What Actors Can Teach Us About Memory and Learning

Ideas

So you say you have a wedding toast to memorize? A 20-min. speech you have to know by heart? A list of people’s names you absolutely must remember?

Pshaw. Imagine delivering the long soliloquies of Shakespeare or the impassioned speeches of Arthur Miller or the cut-glass dialogue of David Mamet. When it comes to memorization, professional actors can claim bragging rights. They must reproduce their scripts exactly — no improvising allowed — night after night, under blinding lights, in front of a demanding audience. How do they do it? Helga Noice, a professor of psychology at Elmhurst College in Illinois, has spent more than 20 years investigating that question, and her findings hold lessons for all of us who must sometimes commit words to memory.

(MORE:Paul: Why Morning Routines Are Creativity Killers)

Noice’s first and most surprising discovery is that most actors don’t memorize their lines in…

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