Link Mnemonic

Learning to Use the Link Mnemonic

The Link mnemonic is a memory technique that employs interactive visual imagery to assist recall of a series of items on a list. In this technique, each of the items in a list is visualized interacting with each of the adjacent items in the list.

Like the method of loci Opens in new window and the pegword technique Opens in new window, the link mnemonic uses visual images to link items together. However, instead of using a well-learned structure to anchor the new information, items are linked to the adjacent items in the list. In this way it is like the story method Opens in new window.

However, the link method requires less thematic coherence than the story method — you are essentially building a chain, in which the only requirement is that each item forms a visual image with the item next to it.

Thus, for our 12 cranial nerves, you could form the following images:

  • a nose with the eyes above
  • the eyes on the handlebars, riding a motorbike
  • the motorbike hitting a truck
  • the truck spilling its load of 3 gems
  • a ufo coming down, to abduct the gems & driver
  • an alien (abductor) ripping off the truckdriver’s face
  • the ears falling off the face
  • the ears falling onto a glossy photo
  • the glossy photo pinned to a pink heart
  • the pink heart being tucked into a bag (accessory)
  • the bag (accessory) being pierced with a hypodermic

Effectiveness of the Link Mnemonic

There has been very little research into the effectiveness of the link mnemonic, but findings from two early studies found dramatic benefits from using this technique to learn lists of unrelated nouns after a single presentation.

Bugelski, for example, found the average recall of a 20-word list without using the technique was around 10 words, of which only half were remembered in the correct order, compared to half as many more being remembered using the link mnemonic, and markedly better order recall (in the most effective condition, in which college students were given 6 seconds to study each word, an average of 15 words were recalled in correct sequence, with an average of 17 recalled overall — this compares to an average of 5.5 and 9.7 when the students were simply told to try and learn the words in the order given).

Nor did the students receive much instruction in the technique (they were simply told to form an image of each word in their mind and to try to incorporate this image with the prior image in some interaction), suggesting that this is a method easily mastered — although like all mnemonics, practice will certainly make you much more fluent at implementing it.

The study also showed that the technique had a marked effect on persistence and consistency. Those using their own techniques showed the typical pattern of remembering the first and last items best, with a sudden drop after the 3rd item (the primacy and recency effects). By the 7th item, these students had essentially given up. Those using the link mnemonic, however, simply showed a slow decline, with no precipitous drop. By the 7th item, 85% of the link mnemonic group were still learning.

Perhaps most importantly, the study found wide individual variability: around a sixth of the link mnemonic group (16 out of 96 students) recalled all 20 items, in sequence, after a single presentation. Some of these could, when asked, return all 20 in the reverse order.

This emphasizes how the effectiveness of a strategy depends as much on the individual as on the strategy itself.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Link Mnemonic

  • doesn’t require a pre-learned structure
  • is easily learned
  • doesn’t allow you to go directly to any item, but requires you to work your way through the chain until you get to the item
  • requires visualization skill
    Adapted from the book: Mnemonics for Study (2nd ed.), authored by Fiona McPherso