Photographic Memory and Eidetic Memory

Everybody heard about the “photographic memory.” Many people dream to develop it—whether out of interest or for professional purposes. And so many myths have sprung up around it that we decided to dispel them. Even the term itself is wrong, putting many people on a false track.

Photographic Memory and Eidetic Memory

Short facts and answers

Is Photographic Memory Real?

But although the idea is tempting and the myth is widely spread, photographic memory does not occur in nature. It is also often called “eidetic memory,” but these are two completely different things. The former most likely stuck simply because it was unusual and catchy.

Photographic Memory Vs. Eidetic Memory

The key difference is that eidetic memory is the ability to remember the last image with high accuracy for a short period of time, while photographic memory is long-term.

Recalling an Image Like Taking a Photo

The quality and accuracy of memories depend on a particular person, but a "photo" with all the details is something that no one is able to "recall"—separate details tend to slip away or get distorted.

People are Born with Eidetic Memory

Eidetic memory is more typical for children who often surprise parents with such unusual skills. But in most cases, we lose this ability over time as something useless. But you can always redevelop it with the help of numerous techniques.

Is Eidetic Memory Absolute?

Often people who easily reproduce music after hearing it once fail to remember faces or their household chores.

People with Eidetic Memory

Mozart, who lived in the 18th century, had a musical eidetic memory. In fact, researchers from Germany studied this phenomenon seriously early in the 1920s.

Photographic Memory Experiment

A professor from California carried out an experiment to check if people really remember what they saw the same way as taking a photo. He showed several gifted people some text, gave them time to remember it, and asked them to reproduce the text... backward. Because you can easily do this with a photo at hand, but all of them failed. So what they really tried to remember about the text were the words, but not its visual lines. Otherwise, they could easily do this.

People with an Eidetic Memory

History knows many outstanding people who had an amazing memory. They could very likely boast of eidetic memory as well.

Among such people was Nikolay Przhevalsky, who could easily remember for years loads of information he read and reproduced landscapes he saw to make maps.

Ronald Reagan had to take only one look at the document to memorize all its content.

Ivan Aivazovsky painted all his 6 thousand paintings solely from memory, reproducing the views he saw with remarkable accuracy. There is even a memory development technique named after him.

Nikola Tesla rarely used textbooks—he could remember a table he saw once and easily call complex logarithms and formulas off the top of his head.

Of course, this is a non-exhaustive list of people who had an excellent memory—it is actually a way longer. It also includes Elon Musk, Leonardo da Vinci, Swami Vivekananda (Indian Hindu monk, philosopher, and author), John von Neumann (the mathematician).

Eidetic Memory in Movies and Series

Popular works typically attribute eidetic memory to very special people—it usually compensates for their obvious imperfections. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory is a vivid example of this: he can quote a ten-years-ago conversation and memorize all the cards in the deck, thus winning all the games. Raymond Babbitt—a character from the Rain Man—can remember all the citizens' names, addresses, and phone numbers after reading a telephone directory. Sherlock Holmes is another widely known man from the British TV series who remembers all the tiny details and can instantly retrieve them when needed.

Is Eidetic Memory Trainable?

It is hardly possible to remember absolutely everything. But you still can significantly enhance your current memory. In fact, there are a huge number of techniques for memory improvement, which are largely directed at a simple strain on the brain. You also have to get as calm and focused as possible when training. Various mnemonic tips, like that about the ROYGBIV (an acronym for the sequence of rainbow hues), would also be of good help. Over time, you will no longer need such "crutches," while a habit and the ability to remember everything around will remain.

References: Links and sources

Add comment
  1. AstrodevDec 13, 2022 18:37
    Purely from the point of view of evolution, a living being does not need absolute memory at all. Seriously, what for?
  2. nikoviDec 2, 2022 20:51
    It would be too difficult and useless for our brain to store memory in the form of actual photos.
    1. KirisDec 12, 2022 19:02
      Nowadays, photographic memory is not needed, this task is delegated to computers.
  3. ZardasterNov 30, 2022 11:26
    Photographic memory will be possible in the future when brain-machine interfaces are implanted into the head. Take Elon Musk's Neuralink for example.