Among India’s ancient learning methods, textual memorization is the norm: traditional scholars (“pundits”), master many different types of Sanskrit poetry from the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Pundits train for years to orally memorize and exactly these texts ranging over 100,000 words.
Dr. James Hartzell, a postdoctoral researcher at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, in Spain, entered the cognitive neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Trento, Italy in 2011, to study whether there were cognitive benefits from exercising verbal memory. He says that through the India-Trento Partnership for Advanced Research, “we recruited professional Vedic pundits in the Delhi region; then we used structural magnetic resonance imaging at India’s National Brain Research Center to scan the brains of pundits and controls matched for age, gender, handedness, eye-dominance and multilingualism.”
The study found something specific about intensive verbal memory training: the pundits’ right hippocampus—a region of the brain that plays a vital role in both short and long-term memory—had more gray matter than controls across nearly 75 percent of this subcortical structure. The pundits also showed substantially thickening of right temporal cortex regions that are associated with speech prosody and voice identity.
Hartzell wonders if the substantial increase in the gray matter of critical verbal memory organs means they are less prone to Alzheimer’s, and if so, this raises the possibility that verbal memory “exercising‘ or training might help elderly people at risk of mild cognitive impairment retard or, even more radically, prevent its onset. The study was published in the scientific journal, Neuroimage