Mental images. Technique of study 2/8.

In fact all we used real images and mental, at least partly, to study certain very visual subjects of the sanitary branches, as Anatomy, cellular Biology, Histology, etc. That is to say, those subjects that describe the structures that compose the organism at level as much macro as microscopic.

Nevertheless, when the specialists in psychology of the learning speak of the techniques of €œmental imagery€, they talk about to techniques of mental visualization that can be applied to nonmorphologic subjects and to abstract concepts.

We can denominate it in Castilian as €œmental visualization€ or €œimages€.


The human being has always depended on his visuespaciales capacities to survive. On those capacities he depends to know how to return to house after taking several days hunting in distant regions, or remembering where was an suitable refuge, or fruit trees where to be able to gather foods. Therefore these capacities have a great representation in our cerebral crust, more concretely in the right hemisphere (1).

It thinks easily that we remembered the distribution of a house that we finished visiting, the general aspect of the furniture, the predominant colors. That is a reflection of the incredible visuespaciales capacities that all we have.

The construction of mental images from concepts contributes meaning to those concepts from which it makes the rounds by our mind. That is to say, it gives sense, color and diversion him to which it did not have it before (an expert in memory, Joshua Foer, us the account in its TED chat).


At the outset it is a slow method, although of the practice one takes control faster. In any case, to elaborate our own absurd associations of images can take time.

Perhaps for that reason some methods that they give made the associations of images can get to be very popular and fast to use.

An example related to the Medicine is the system of Dean Vaughn for medical terminology (2), that facilitates the learning of area codes and medical suffixes as gastr-, card-, - itis, - ectom­a, etc. Is a system designed for students of English speech.

For example, to memorise the term gastr- (stomach), associates it to the word €œtruck€, truck, and draws a giant stomach transferred by a truck. Several studies have demonstrated that this method is more useful than the pure memorization of the data (3).


No. is shelp that Sim³nides de Ceos devised it, a Greek poet who lived 500 years a.c. Cicer³n used the technique of the palace of the memory to memorise its speeches.


Palace of the memory

It consists of using a construction that is known very or (your own house or floor, the building of the faculty) to locate an association of images in each stay that you cross when entering that construction. It serves for sequences, listings, events, etc (synthesis of molecules, a speech, an historical event).

You can memorise the list of the purchase imagining each product that you want to acquire in a location. For example, milk in the hall, cakes in the bathroom of the entrance, conserve tuna in the dormitory, etc. So that he is effective, agree to imagine it with startling and very vivid characteristics. Thus, in the hall we could imagine milk spilling themselves on a furniture or hanging of the hook of the keys, perhaps spoiled (imagining therefore the stinking scent that produces); in the bathroom, a clogging of the toilet caused by cakes that jump upwards making watery noises; in the dormitory, a gigantic tuna jumping on your favorite sheets and leaving the scent to fish I mill and sea in your nose€¦

In the book of Barbara Oakley (To Mind For Numbers: How to Excel AT Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) the professor of Tracey Magrann Anatomy explains how to use this technique to memorise the layers of the epidermis.

The epidermis has 5 layers


To imagine a mental scene with the greater luxury of details and different sensorial modalities reinforces its anchorage in the memory (ex. to observe a bone in the rooms of anatomy, to touch its parts, to name them aloud). If we wished to memorise something related to an animal, we can recreate the scent of that animal, the sounds that it emits, the quality of the light that surrounds it, etc.

To recreate an anatomical structure by hand drawing also reinforces it the memory of that visual structure.

Humor, even the eschatological one, also help. A Korean professor of anatomy uses comic strip to explain concepts and difficult structures in anatomy, and he does not matter to him to resort to sex to determine ideas€¦


This is lent to be combined with other mental tricks that facilitate the understanding of new concepts, as the ANALOGIES For example, can imagine human the glandular system as a village around a central castle from where everything is controlled and ordered (hypothalamus), happening through another building that can be a military quarter that helps to the government (the pituitary gland), and to continue imagining each gland as a house different from the village, with its inhabitants and their particularitities.

Another example of analogy is to compare the structure of an atom with the one of the Solar System. Or the divisions you will tilt successive of an artery with the ramifications of a tree. Or the dendritic thorns with the thorns of a rose stem. The possibilities are infinite because each of us has unique images and previous knowledge with which it will construct his own analogies, or will adapt the analogies invented by others.

Also METAPHORS can be elaborated (€œthe atom is a Solar System in miniature€). To compare a motor nerve with an electrical cable, multiple copper filaments (axons) in its interior, with cable handfuls covered of a fine plastic (perineuro) and a heavy external package that surrounds it everything (epineuro).


How we can apply this in our sanitary studies? Many abstract concepts exist that to learn, home by the hundreds of area codes and suffixes used for cultured words.  We can benefit from the visual imagination to study matters as biochemistry, physics and statistic.

  • Abstract concepts
  • Listings: P. ex can be grouped. in a palace of the memory, or in a history that chains some images with others.
  • Sequences: idem in a palace of the memory.
  • Characteristics of a disease: a person or a character can imagine in.

€¦ And as it could not less be, we can enjoy the inventions and drawings of the great one to @ChuletaDeOsler in his blog and google + (ganglion sentry) to brighten up and to facilitate the study.


Other entrances on study techniques:


1. Cai Q, Van der Haegen L, Brysbaert M. for Complementary hemispheric specialization language production and visuospatial attention. PNAS 2013; 110 (4): E322-E330.


3. C. Jayne Brahler, Diane Walker. Medical Learning scientific and terminology with to mnemonic strategy using an illogical association technique. Advances in Physiology Education Published 1 September 2008 Bowl 32 no. 3, 219-224.


Almudena Trinidad

I am otorrinolaring³loga doctor in a hospital of Madrid and Professor Asociada de Medicina in the UAM. I help Medicine students to develop more effective techniques of study to obtain better notes, to remember during more time and to feel like more happy insurances and with its studies.

6 Commentaries
  • Daniela
    Published to 11:53 h, 11 May To respond

    Then I in anatomy did of everything, but memory of the things that I help myself more was to buy plasticine and to mold the bones of the foot and hand while it saw laminae of prometheus (often in the trip in meter) and reproduced the pages of the joints.
    Also I used many of the mnemonics available in Internet for the inervaciones, insertions and sets of muscles.

    And by the way, there is a gratuitous course online of the page of the Dra. Barbara Oakley that is called Learning How to Learn, there am it been making this course and is quite light and useful.

    I enchant to me posts of the blog, would like to know if you have some advice to study better the clinical subjects.

    • Almudena Trinidad
      Published to 19:37 h, 12 May To respond

      What good devises the one to model the bones! I take the idea you given for next actual classes and some post from the blog, if it give to permission 🙂 me

      The course of Barbara Oakley is fantastic, I did it in August of the past year and I bought the book, that is very good. That way I have it connected in the blog. If somebody that reads this wants to do it, he is open indefinitely. can look here

      In order to study better the clinical subjects I have some technical that also I learned in Coursera ( The course is closed now and is a little long, so I want to summarize it in 1 or several posts for the blog. Volume notices of your request.

      The one of the rules mnemonics I must look for it. You know some page that you have liked especially?

      • Daniela
        Published to 22:51 h, 12 May To respond

        By all means! If the best thing than we can do is to share the forms of learning€¦ the one of lost time that we would save.

        I in the clinics beyond reading it often help much to see series me of medicine, especially ER or Sala de Urgencias. Because once you see a case and how he handles himself remembers far better (and sometimes he is more reasonable to see 7 cases at home that in an hour what you get to see in a morning of rotation).

        He had many mnemonics for anatomy, when he finishes the examinations I look for them and I share them. But mainly for the clinical part, I believe that this manual comes very well from mnemonics that publishes academy MIR. It comes classified by subjects.

        Thank you very much reason why joint parties in the blog and by the optative one (which I found out very advanced the course already). These techniques are fundamental, mainly in a race as this.

        • Almudena Trinidad
          Published to 06:46 h, 13 May To respond

          Brilliant, thank you very much, Daniela! And thanks to you to participate in the blog. That the examinations go well!

  • Marcia
    Published to 17:06 h, 12 October To respond

    Thank you very much by the article! and I believe that it is €œlove at first sight€ of this technique of study! I the same did the one of the plasticine in Anatomy! =) and furthermore .me practices inconcientemente€¦ for example the scale of Glasgow. was very difficult to learn, and I devised a way to remember it with my senses: Ocular answer is four blinkings, verbal Answer era to vocalize 5 times, and Answer motorboat was 6 shoulder movements, thanks to share the information!

    • Almudena Trinidad
      Published to 17:48 h, 13 October To respond

      Thank you very much to share that rule mnemonics, Marcia:))
      Certainly help to more of a companion of studies!

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