There has recently been an influx of discussion and questions about eidetic memory within the world of psychology. According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology [link removed], eidetic memory is “abundant and unusually vivid visual recall.” This has led to people linking eidetic memory to photographic memory, a phenomenon that scientists have said is an entirely different ability that may be more myth than fact. Though eidetic memory has been shown to exist, it is also exceedingly rare, and usually only seen in children.
What is Eidetic Memory?
Eidetic memory is the ability to recall an image, as well as sounds and other sensations associated with that image, with so much accurate detail that it is as if they are still seeing it. The ability does not require prolonged exposure to the visual image, and it also does not last for a prolonged period of time. Importantly, in order for a memory to be considered eidetic it cannot rely on any mnemonic devices to assist with its recall. Eidetic memory has been positively confirmed in children, but only in about between 2 to 15% of American children under the age of 12. It is extremely rare in adults. Researchers theorize that this is a result of children having a greater tendency to rely on the visual images they see, while adults have a tendency to try to encode both visual and verbal cues, thus weakening the formation of eidetic memories. Individuals who are identified as having eidetic memory are referred to as “eidetikers.”(Stanford University [link removed])
What Distinguishes Eidetic Imagery?
A specific test exists to identify whether a person is an eidetiker and forms eidetic memories. This test is known as the Picture Elicitation Method [reference link no longer available], and involves placing an unfamiliar image in front of the subject and providing them with a limited period of time (usually 30 seconds) to look at it. The picture is then removed, though the easel it had been resting on remains and the individual is asked what they see when they look at it. People who have eidetic memory continue to see the picture as if it is still in place, and can describe different sections of it in detail, going so far as to use present tense in their description.
What the edetikers see is specifically not an afterimage, which is characterized both by colors in the image changing and the image moving along with movements of the eye. Instead, the colors that are described remain consistent and the eidetiker’s eye remains focused on where the image had been. Most important of all, eidetic images eventually fade away bit by bit and only last about four minutes, and eidetikers can purposely make the image go away by repeatedly blinking their eyes. After the memory is gone, it cannot generally be retrieved. (Scientific American)
The Difference Between Eidetic Memory and Photographic Memory
Upon learning about eidetic memory, many people make the logical leap to what they understand as photographic memory, an ability that has largely been disproven as myth. Though many people do have excellent memories, the notion of being able to quickly view an image and encode it into permanent, retrievable, perfect memory has been disproven time and again by researchers. The closest that anybody has come to exhibiting that type of ability have been a few savants similar to the one profiled in the Dustin Hoffman movie Rain Man, but even they do not have complete abilities. People who have notably remarkable memories generally zero in on a specific area of interest or talent — basketball star LeBron James is an excellent example of this: though many people attribute his uncanny ability to remember details, plays and dates of individual basketball games to having a photographic memory, it is likely more true that he has an excellent memory fortified by his love and study of the game. Others who claim that they have a photographic memory actually rely on mnemonic tools to enhance their ability to remember details about specific subjects. There is a highly specific form of memory termed hyperthymestic syndrome that has been associated with photographic memory — it is an ability that some people have to remember autobiographical detail from throughout their lives in extreme detail. (Slate Magazine)
I never chose to have this but as I got older I learned how to use it through the training. Mine has smell touch feel and sound the guides me to the memory I can actually smell it feel it and almost touch it with my mind.
I’m rewatching a movie right now that I saw decades ago
I am sharing these things about my son in hopes to start a conversation. I want to know your thoughts and ideas, whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve been told. My son just turn 16. He always showed signs of having a photographic memory and as I read more studies I realized that he was actually showing attributes of eidetic memory. I had him tested for gifted and took him to a certified specialist for testing eidetic memory when he was 5. He tested off the charts for both.
He still, today, has the abilities of an eidetiker. He has been seeing the same specialist every year to test his abilities. He has shown more of what the above article says is hyperthymestic syndrome, yet still has the ability to use his eidetic memory. He is not on the spectrum, but his doctor says that through research and the results of my son’s testing he is certain that my son’s antisocial/social anxiety and lack of almost all physical interaction is attributed to his abilities because he does actually remember everything, all 5 senses are ingrained into his memory. Though the article above and other studies I have read say similar things of, “…eidetic memories tend to fade bit by bit and are eventually gone within 4 minutes,” I believe that this depends on the eidetic and if they are consistently challenging themselves. My son’s doctor has said that because he uses all 5 of his senses to remember things it is as if he is injecting himself into the graphic: imagery and writing. When he recalls the memory of the image from the test he describes colors, sounds, smells, and even the sense of touch. I am amazed by my son. I sometimes ask him questions about things that I know he hasn’t seen in a long time, definitely longer than 4 minutes and he can describe it as if he had just seen it 30 seconds before.
sounds like Synesthesia.
…about Eidetic imagery… I’m actually one. In 1977 Dr. Michael Siegel presented a paper to the APA regarding my abilities. He studied me for 2 years. I still “see” pictures he showed me in the 1970’s. [I am 65 now, I was a college student then.] It is real.I’m also a synesthete, which I didn’t know about until the 90’s [and mistakenly the reason I went to Dr. Siegel in the first place].And I have perfect pitch.
I knew a gal who used to do typesetting for a small town newspaper. She said her memory was photographic. It might have been the other one…but she was in her late 30’s or 40’s. She could recall an entire page of typed words long afterwards. Not just minutes. She could go right back to any place in her day’s work where she had been before to make an edit or a change. I asked her for how long she could see (in her mind’s eye) every single word that was on a particular page and recall it. I believe she said as long as it was the same day–and sometimes for days.