Debunking Photographic Memory


Noelle Natividad, Staff Writer

It was her secret, the key to her success. With a shaky hand, she turned the pages, staring at the dusty script with downplayed anxiety as a sleepy tremor came over her. Her heart beat lazily with sleep deprivation and suddenly, it all went away because she knew- she knew that when she came away from this desk and rested her eyes, it would still be there- in her head.

Some call it photographic memory, but the scientific term for a memory so vivid that fine details of an image can be remembered in an instant is eidetic memory. In the midst of AP exams and with finals shortly approaching, we all wish we could memorize in the blink of an eye, literally. Some students may boast of their seemingly “photographic memory”, but is this fact or fiction?

The short answer is no; there has never been a proven or recorded case of eidetic memory. A professor of neurology and cognitive science at John Hopkins University, Barry Gordon wrote in Scientific American, “The intuitive notion of a ‘photographic’ memory is that it is just like a photograph: you can retrieve it from your memory at will and examine it in detail, zooming in on different parts. But a true photographic memory in this sense has never been proved to exist. Most of us do have a kind of photographic memory, in that most people’s memory for visual material is much better and more detailed than our recall of most other kinds of material.”

A photographic memory, exemplified in many superheroes and exaggerated myths alike, is not an actual thing sadly; however, there does exist memory that is better than others and just like anything, the key to achieving it is to practice. The mechanics of it all lie in the hippocampus of the brain and in overall wellness. Doctors recommend a good diet, reaching the minimum amount of sleep every night, constantly using daily brain functions, and challenging yourself everyday to avoid degradation of your neurological capacity.

The brain can also be improved. The co-director of the Cognitive Science Programme at the University of California, Davis explained to The Journal, “There are other forms of memory, including muscle memory, used when playing sports or knowing that you have to push your front door in a certain way to open it, and others which have been developed over thousands of years for remembering long stories. Greek literature, such as Homer’s epics, were originally passed down orally through the generations. One method they developed to memorise these incredibly long pieces was the Method of Loci, which can help your brain to recall information that it usually wouldn’t. This is where different parts of a story are associated with different parts of a physical object. Entering and moving around a house is often used as an example, associating different rooms with different verses or chapters.”

Using memorization techniques like this is a sure way to improve your memory and bring you closer to something “photographic”.

Image Courtesy UPI.COM