How to obtain a photographic memory: is it even possible?

What is captured in a photograph can never change. Every time you look at an image, you will see the same images and colors.

The term photographic memory evokes an ability to remember exactly what has been seen for ages. However, memory just doesn’t work that way.

Eidetic memory

Some people may have the option of momentarily capturing visual images. This ability is called eidetic memory.

It is believed that eidetic memory occurs in a small percentage of children, although even this hypothesis is far from conclusive.

Someone with a well-honed eidetic memory will be able to continue to see, in their mind, a precise visual of something they have just witnessed or been shown. They will be able to keep this image intact in visual form for several seconds to several minutes.

After that, the details of eidetic memories may change, fade completely, or be captured in short-term memory, where they may again fade, change, or be captured in long-term memory.

It is believed that eidetic memory dissipates completely in the population as one approaches adulthood.

Eidetics vs photographic memory

Some people use the terms photographic memory and eidetic memory interchangeably, but the two are different. People who believe they have photographic memories say they can remember visuals for very long periods of time, or permanently, without altering the details.

There is little scientific consensus on eidetic memory or photographic memory. Both are difficult phenomena to test conclusively.

Whether or not photographic memory is accessible, there are strategies to help your brain remember more of what you see. And that is a very good thing.

The short answer is probably not.

Once upon a time, only around 60 percent of the population were thought to be visual learners, meaning they were able to retain knowledge and memory obtained through visual stimuli.

The current conventional wisdom is that all – or virtually all – people obtain knowledge and memory this way.

Visual learning theoretically differs from photographic memory, but can be a necessary part of its development. It assumes that photographic memory is a real thing.

People who believe they have a photographic memory say that they can look at a photograph, scene, image, or any other form of visual stimuli and keep that image exactly as it appeared for an extended period of time.

Although we know that the brain has a very high capacity for retaining long-term visual memories, this type of claim is difficult to substantiate definitively.

Certainly, there are people who have better photographic memory than others. Some early studies have correlated photographic memory with intelligence, although this is not proven.

People with eidetic memory are called eidetikers. Eidetikers are sometimes tested using a technique known as the Picture Elicitation Method.

This method uses an unknown visual prompt, such as a painting or a photograph. The person with eidetic memory is allowed to study the visual for about 30 seconds. It is then deleted. and the eidetiker is invited to remember exactly what he just saw.

Often times, the person will refer to the visual in immediate terms, as if they are still looking at it, and let the seeker know what they are still seeing. Eidetic images can be visually deleted from memory by flashing. Once gone, they cannot be accurately retrieved.

In addition, recalling eidetic images often shows discrepancies between what was seen and what is remembered. This indicates that the memory can be a reconstruction of what was seen, rather than a precise and exact memory.

If you are asked to recall a visual you know, such as a room in your house, you will be able to do so with some degree of precision.

Eidetic memories can in fact be generated in the same way by the brain, and may not be photographic interpretations at all.

Keeping your brain active is the best way to boost your memory.

Try the mnemonic systems

Mnemonics use patterns of associations, letters, pictures, or ideas to help you remember something.

A simple mnemonic system could be to rhyme the name of a person you just met with a word that you will easily remember. You will then remember the word when you want to call the person’s name.

Some mnemonic systems include:

  • The loci method: This memory building strategy dates back to the days of the Roman Empire and is also referred to as the memory palace. To try it out, follow these steps:
    • Think about what you want to remember and create a visual image of it.
    • Create an association with the thing you want to remember. For example, if you want to remember an address, visualize the address written on a front door that you visualize in exquisite detail, including color, door knocker, and other imagery.
    • When you want to remember the real address, visualize the front door and the address should pop up in your mind.
    • Some people find that this system works best if the images they conjure up are extreme, irrational, bizarre, silly, or funny.
  • The ankle system: This system correlates things you know well, like the alphabet, with things you want to remember. It works by creating an association or a reminder. To do it:
    • Generate a mental picture of an ankle that is labeled with a letter or number.
    • Then hang whatever you want to remember on it.

Other memory boosters

Here are some other tips to boost your memory:

  • to learn a new language
  • do puzzles
  • get enough sleep
  • read books, newspapers and magazine articles – the harder, the better
  • add at least one vocabulary word to your repertoire each day
  • do aerobic exercise
  • meditation

Science has not been able to prove the existence of actual photographic memory. It is possible that some children display a type of photographic memory called eidetic memory, but this has not been conclusively proven.

While it may not be possible to train your brain to have photographic memory, you can improve your memory through mnemonics and other techniques. Simple things like sleep and exercise also help boost memory.

Michael E. Marquez