Eidetic Memory Vs. Photographic Memory

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Eidetic memory refers to the ability to vividly recall images from memory after only a few instances of exposure, with high accuracy for a short time after exposure, without using a memory aid. Photographic memory, though often used interchangeably with eidetic memory, implies the ability

Eidetic memory is more common in children, with only about 2 to 15% of American children under 12 exhibiting this trait.

This ability dwindles in adulthood. The prevalence in children might arise from their reliance on visual stimuli, whereas adults balance between visual and auditory cues, impeding the formation of eidetic memories. People with eidetic memory are often termed “eidetikers.”

Conversely, there’s no conclusive evidence supporting the existence of genuine photographic memory. Despite some individuals boasting incredible memory capabilities, the idea of instantly encoding an image into an impeccable, permanent memory has been debunked repeatedly.

Even outstanding memories, like LeBron James’ recall of basketball games, are likely due to intense focus and passion, not a so-called “photographic memory.” Some claim to possess this memory type but often utilize mnemonic techniques to enhance recall.

“Hyperthymic syndrome” is sometimes linked to photographic memory, describing individuals who remember vast amounts of autobiographical detail.

In essence, eidetic memory provides a nearly precise mental snapshot of an event. While primarily visual, it can encompass other sensory facets related to the image.

Comparatively, “photographic memory” denotes the ability to recall extensive detail without the distinct visualization associated with eidetic memory.

How Eidetic Memory Works

Eidetic memory describes the ability to retain memories like photographs for a short time.

It involves recalling visual details as well as sounds and other sensations associated with the image in an exceptionally accurate manner. Unlike photographic memory, eidetic memory does not require prolonged exposure to an image and the recall is not perfect or permanent.

Eidetic memory is a transient form of short-term memory. When you visually witness something, it goes into your eidetic memory for moments before being discarded or relayed to short-term memory.

Once in short-term memory, it may be remembered for days, weeks, or months when it will be scrapped or dispatched to long-term memory.

Naturally, when information is relayed from eidetic memory to short-term memory, it is forwarded as data rather than a precise picture that you can see in your mind’s eye.

For instance, you notice your keys on the counter in passing and later assume that you probably need to locate your keys. You recall from your short-term memory that you caught them on the counter, but you would not be able to imagine them as clearly as if you were looking at them.

How Photographic Memory Works

Photogenic memory works considerably differently. With a photographic memory, the picture of the object is maintained in short-term or long-term memory.

Photographic memory denotes the ability to recall entire pages of text or numbers in detailed precision.

An individual who has a photographic memory can shut their eyes and see the thing in their mind’s eye just as plainly as if they had taken a photograph, even days or weeks after they witnessed the object. This type of memory is scarce and challenging to verify.

Prevalence of Eidetic Memory

As we mentioned before, eidetic memory is typically found only in young kids, and virtually absent in adults. Children maintain far more capability for eidetic imagery than adults, indicating that a developmental change, such as acquiring language skills, could disrupt the possibility of eidetic imagery.

Eidetic memory has been found in about 2 to 10 percent of children aged six to twelve. It has been theorized that language acquisition and verbal skills allow older children to think more abstractly and therefore depend less on graphic memory systems.

Extensive research has failed to demonstrate consistent relationships between the presence of eidetic imagery and any emotional, neurological, intellectual, or cognitive measure.

Very few adults have had phenomenal memories (not necessarily of images), but their capacities are also detached from their intellect levels and are highly specialized. In extreme cases, like those of Kim Peek and Solomon Shereshevsky, memory skills can reportedly inhibit social skills.

Shereshevsky was a conditioned mnemonist – not an eidetic memorizer – and there are no examinations that demonstrate whether Kim Peek had a genuinely eidetic memory.

Also, according to sources, the mathematician John von Neumann could recall every book he had ever read from memory.

Can You Train Your Brain To Get A Photographic Memory?

Numerous people would love to have a photographic memory. Not everyone is competent in obtaining a photographic memory. Regardless, there are some things one can do to improve one’s memory overall.

There are also some methods for training one’s mind to take in and store those mental photographs for later use.

Improving One’s Memory Generally

One of the best things one can do to gain a photographic memory is to improve one’s memory generally. There are many ways that one can do this, and the most productive thing one can do to improve memory is to keep one’s mind active.

Completing things like crossword puzzles and other mind games will significantly help you train one’s mind to remember facts, figures, and, eventually, images.

Another way to enhance memory is to train the mind to connect and associate new information or pictures with previously retrieved and stored data.

These connections can be used to remember almost anything, and it is a great way to ensure that one can remember something for longer than a few seconds. Using associations or “chunking” information in memory can enormously improve one’s recall ability.

The Military Method

There is a method of obtaining a photographic memory which is called the Military Method. It is believed that the military uses this technique to train operatives to have a photographic memory.

While there is no objective evidence as to whether or not it is true, some individuals have had some success in improving their memory with this process.

Before beginning the Military Method, one must commit entirely to the exercise. The technique takes about a month to complete, and one must do it every day for it to truly work. If one misses even one day of practice, it can set one back at least a week in trying to make the progress one is seeking.

First, one will need a completely dark room free from distractions to use this method. One will also need a bright lamp or light that can be turned on or off. Maybe a windowless bathroom or closet with a ceiling light is a good option.

Grab a sheet of paper and produce a hole in it about the size of a paragraph on a page of a book or manuscript one is trying to memorize. This way, one should only be able to see one section at a time when placing the paper on the book or document.

Sit comfortably in the tiny windowless space one has chosen. One should be able to turn the light on and off quickly without getting up or moving around too much.

Adjust the book or document to see it quickly, and the words jump into focus when one glances at it without difficulty. The distance can vary from person to person based on if they wear eyewear and their overall eyesight.

Place the paper over what one is trying to memorize to show just one paragraph. Please turn off the light and let one’s eyes adjust to the darkness. Then, switch the light on for just a split second, examine the paragraph, and turn the light off again.

One should have a visual imprint of the mental picture right in front of oneself or be able to view it in the mind’s eye. When the image disappears after a bit, repeat the process.

One will repeat this process until one can remember every word in the correct order of the paragraph. Doing this exercise for about fifteen minutes every day every month should help one improve one’s photographic memory.

If one cannot remember the entire section after a month, one should have at least been able to memorize a portion of it and improve one’s memory overall.

Learning to Focus & Eliminating Distractions

One of the great ways to improve one’s ability to recall information and images is to focus entirely on what one is trying to memorize. When remembering pictures or information, eliminating distractions can significantly enhance one’s ability to store that information later.

Of course, one will not always be able to eliminate distractions when one wants to memorize something. There could be many things going on and noise or people talking in the background.

To best remember information and images, one will need to genuinely hyper-focus on what one is trying to memorize. This can take some training to block out distractions when required to learn the information or images.

Practicing with Common Objects, Like a Deck of Cards

Memorizing a group of objects like dominos or a deck of cards can help one improve one’s memory and train one’s mind to remember what it sees. Grab a deck of cards, maybe UNO cards or playing cards one has lying around, and choose three cards at random.

Memorize the cards, put them back in the deck, shuffle them, and find the cards one memorized, putting them in their order when one learned them. Each day one is successful, add more cards until one can do the entire deck.

One can do the same thing with dominos or other similar but different objects. One draws a few in a particular order, memorizes them in that order, and tries to recreate them repeatedly, each time with more dominos or objects.

Eating Foods that Stimulate Memory

Some foods can help increase one’s memory. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids have been discovered in studies to lessen memory loss. If you desire to preserve a good memory, make sure you obtain plenty of these either in a supplement or through weekly amounts of salmon.

A study by the Radiological Society of North America has revealed that coffee improves memory. Too much coffee can be harmful, but drinking a morning cup or two of coffee can significantly enhance brain function and memory recall throughout the day. Several studies also suggest choline as a memory supporter.

One can find choline in egg yolks – eating a daily dose of eggs can significantly help you boost one’s short-term memory capacity.

A high-protein diet has also been linked to good memory. Ultimately, luteolin, a nutrient in celery, has improved short-term memory.

Skepticism Of Eidetic Memory

Scientific skepticism about eidetic memory was brought up by Charles Stromeyer around 1970, who began to study his future wife, Elizabeth, who claimed that she could remember pieces of poetry written in an unfamiliar language that she did not comprehend years after first encountering and seeing the poem.

Apparently, she also could recall random dot patterns with such commitment as to combine two ways into a stereoscopic image.

She is the only remaining documented person to have passed an eidetic memory test. Nonetheless, the methods used in the examination procedures could be considered questionable, especially given the exceptional nature of the claims, along with the fact that the investigator married his subject.

The tests have never been duplicated as Elizabeth has consistently refused to repeat them, which does raise further concerns.

Some psychologists believe that the reflection of eidetic memory comes from an unusually long persistence of iconic images in a few lucky people. More modern evidence brings up questions about whether any recollections are genuinely photographic.

Eidetikers’ memories are extraordinary, but they are scarcely flawless. Their memories frequently contain tiny errors, including information not included in the original visual stimulus, so even eidetic memory often seems to be reconstructive.

American cognitive scientist, Marvin Minsky, considered reports of photographic memory to be an “unfounded myth” in his book The Society of Mind (1988).

Additionally, there is no real scientific consensus regarding its nature, the proper definition, or even the actual existence of eidetic imagery, even in that of children. Brian Dunning, a scientific skeptic author, reviewed the research on the subject of eidetic and photographic memories in 2016 and came to the conclusion that there is a lack of hard evidence that eidetic memory even exists at all among normal adults.

There is, in fact, no evidence that even something remotely like photographic memory exists. However, a common theme runs in many research papers Brian looked at.

That is why the difference between standard memory and exceptional memory appears to be one of degree.