Novices, Apprentices, and Mnemonists: Acquiring Expertise with the Phonetic Mnemonic



Three kinds of participants can be identified in research with the phonetic mnemonic—novices, apprentices, and mnemonists, and most research has involved novices. Two experiments investigated whether ordinary college students using the phonetic mnemonic could duplicate two feats of Luria's memorist identified as S: memorizing a 20-digit matrix in 40 seconds, and memorizing a 50-digit matrix in 3 minutes. Experiment 1 was a large-n study in which novices were provided with phonetic keywords along with the matrices; nearly half of the students successfully memorized each matrix with no errors in recall. Experiment 2 was a small-n study in which apprentices were not given the keywords with the matrices; three of the four students also successfully memorized each matrix with perfect recall. The results suggest that ordinary college students are capable of acquiring a level of skilled memory that rivals the abilities that appear to be innate or idiosyncratic in memorists and mnemonists, and that additional research with mnemonic apprentices might be beneficial. © 1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.