Can you train your brain to have a photographic memory?

Surely you have ever heard of people who are able to memorize one or more pages of a book in just a few seconds. They are said to have photographic memory. But does it really exist? And what is perhaps more important, can we train it?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’Can you train your brain to have a photographic memory?’’ We will explain what photographic memory consists of and how to train it.

Can you train your brain to have a photographic memory?

Scientifically speaking, no. There is no scientific method to train your brain to have photographic memory. But you can train your memory for more retention with memory exercises.

Do you remember the clothes you were wearing or how you smelled the day you turned 20? You may have an eidetic memory or what is commonly called a photographic memory. We help you discover it.

People with highly developed memory are able to remember anything they have seen, heard or smelled. That is to say, of each situation they remember, in great detail, what has happened, what has been said, what the place was like, what light there was, how it smelled and how they felt.

Subjects with extraordinary cognitive abilities fascinate us. The geniuses of calculation and the so-called “memory artists” are some of them. And an example of that extraordinary talent is photographic memory, a concept that has been present in popular culture for a long time.

However, what is the truth in the stories about individuals capable of memorizing innumerable details after a simple glance? Do they exist, or is it more of a Hollywood invention?

Photographic memory, also called eidetic or hieratic memory, consists of the ability to encode visual or written information, visually and with a high level of detail. Whoever has it, processes the image by scanning it with their eyes in detail and, hours later, can remember it as if it were still in front of them. It is estimated that, approximately, only 1% of the population has this capacity. However, its actual existence is not very clear.

There are those who defend that this ability is only possessed by certain boys or girls, but once they grow up, it disappears. Either due to lack of training and stimulation, or because in adults there is a tendency to encode in verbal and visual modality (not photographic). 

Others, that it is directly a myth, since the testimonies always come from those who have the ability directly instead of cognitive tests and objective evaluations.

What does it consist of?

It is called photographic memory because the material to be memorized is captured as if it were an image. That is, the person who has a high eidetic memory remembers everything that appeared in the image or the page of a book, as it was located.

It could also be applied to auditory stimuli. In this case, the melody or sounds would be encoded in memory as an image. The extraordinary thing about this type of memory is that the level of detail is astonishing. For example, remembering punctuation marks from a whole page.

Although it has aroused the interest of scientists, it has not yet been possible to really determine its existence or to clarify why it occurs. In fact, it seems that few people enjoy it, being more present in children, although they would lose it over the years.

Even so, the terms visual memory and eidetic memory should not be confused. The first is the ability to memorize through visual stimuli and the last one places special emphasis on the level of detail that one is able to retain.

In this context, there are many doubts about its real existence. The scant evidence in this regard advocate more for a combination of various skills.

Thus, the ability to have a material accurately would be given by a good visual memory, an extraordinary ability, familiarity with the material, effort and even mnemonic strategies. In fact, most people who have it indicate that they have had it their whole lives and have perfected it through practice.

Children have a better photographic memory

It has been observed that the pure photographic memory in children to be much more developed than in adults, apparently children are able to retain an image in an eidetic way much more accurately than adults.

The study of how a child forms his photographic memory, however, is not a good way to determine how to achieve better photographic memory capacities in the adult, since it has been shown that a child’s brain makes a change at approximately four years.

Before that age, the connections between the right side of the brain or intuitive thinking and the left side of the brain or rational thinking are not the same as after that time. The brain of a young child is wired differently than the brain of an adult, and a child’s photographic memory techniques seem to disappear along with his intuitive thinking abilities.

Although some people have been blessed with superior memory and are more competent than others, there does not seem to be any real way to obtain a photographic memory.

How to have the photographic memory capacity will undoubtedly be a field of study for many scientists in the coming years and will result in the development of more and more tests.

People who have been said to have an eidetic memory have an almost mystical place in our society (Mozart, the engineer Nikola Tesla or Kim Peek, the real “Rain Man”) and how to achieve a photographic memory, therefore, is something that it will haunt all the rest of us.

Eidetic memory and autism

The link between eidetic memory and autism is powerfully striking. There are some cases in the world of autistic people who have developed a truly amazing level of memory. One of the most famous cases is that of Kim Peek.

This American, who passed away in 2009, inspired the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. The real-life Rain Man could look at a page in a book and memorize it forever.

In his brain he could retain thousands of literary works and each one of them managed to incorporate it into his memory in just one hour when even a person trained in speed reading may need several.

Of course, this great ability to memorize Peek contrasted with his autism. He was a person with many difficulties to communicate and to do simple daily tasks.

Photographic memory, but not by retaining images

Some people mistake it for being called a photographic memory. They think that it is like having an image etched in the head of something specific. It can be said that it is much more than that. 

The brain can retain not only images but also sounds and sensations from the other senses. We could imagine this memory as a large database due to its degree of precision.

Can you develop eidetic memory?

When asked if it is possible to develop this type of memory, it must be said that memory can be trained to very high levels.

But those who have an eidetic memory and can memorize everything we mentioned in such great detail is because they have a natural predisposition to do so. You have to understand that they are part of a tiny portion of the world’s population.

The Loci method

Those who possess this ability usually stand out publicly for some of their achievements: painting a map of Rome from memory having enjoyed aerial views only once, remembering each day of life since childhood, or memorizing each page of more than 9000 books. Thus, very few of them reveal what they really do to reach that result.

Only a few of these exceptional minds have counted their tricks and many of them agree on the Loci method, also known as the palace of memories. This method is a useful technique based on spatial memory.

According to memory psychologists, the strongest memories are associated with an image, a place and / or emotions. Therefore, it is more likely to remember something if we are able to remember where it happened, for example.

The Loci method then consists of imagining an itinerary that runs through a number of familiar places and in which the concepts are found as objects placed in that environment. In other words, imagine each element as if it were a vase, painting or plant.

Thus, when making the journey to recover that memory, they would appear by themselves. This method, used since the 5th century BC. It has been studied in prestigious universities and they have found that it helps to improve memory considerably.

So can I train it?

Taking all this into account, yes. Photographic memory can be trained. You can use the Loci method or other strategies more adapted to each person. But what the researchers say so far is that with good technique, learning, and training, remarkable results can be achieved.

In short, constant practice and effort are the key to many skills, and memory is one of them. However, there are people who from a very young age already show a better performance of certain cognitive skills. 

But that does not imply that they end up standing out, or that if you do not have a base you cannot reach those levels.

Not enough scientific studies have been developed to sustain that photographic memory can be trained since, really, all the mechanisms of memory remain a mystery.

However, you can do exercises to improve your memory capacity. These are some examples:

  • Choose an image that has enough details (you can search for images online, a photo you have on your mobile or use a magazine). 

Look at the photo carefully for a minute, take into account every detail. Cover the photo and write everything you can remember. Finally, compare the photo with your list of details.

  • Sit in a room or in your office at work, look at every piece of furniture and item around you for a minute, close your eyes and mentally visualize what you remember.
  • In the subway or on the train, look at the people around you, their clothes, their hair color, how they smell for a minute. Write what you remember and check for matches.

They are simple exercises that you can do at any time and that will make it easier for you to memorize data and learn. In order to progress with these exercises, you will have to start with simpler images and increase the complexity.

The exercise of memory is essential to avoid diseases related to aging, so it is advisable that you always keep your mind active. Stimulate your brain every day with one of these activities:

  • Do crosswords or sudokus.
  • Read books (essays, novels, poetry, theater).
  • Play board games like Parcheesi, cards, dominoes.
  • Sign up for classes to learn English, French, German, Chinese or whatever language you like the most.
  • Sign up for classes to learn to play an instrument, the guitar or the piano, for example.

Never let your mind run automatically, stimulate it.

FAQS: Can you train your brain to have a photographic memory?

Is it possible to develop a photographic memory?

Various studies and specialists affirm that the ability to memorize is not genetic nor can it be trained. … It is important to note that despite memorization methods and techniques, it is difficult for an adult to develop an eidetic or photographic memory beyond their own genetic capacities.

How do you develop photogenic memory?

Photographic memory is an ability to memorize data, events or images quickly and efficiently, remembering this information long after being processed. It can be produced spontaneously, at will on a surface (paper for example) or viewed with the eyes closed.

Is a photographic memory a sign of intelligence?

Photographic memory is then related to the functioning of the brain and intelligence.

How rare is a photographic memory?

A percentage that varies between 2 and 10% of children at an early age experience eidetic memory.

How can I train my brain to remember more?

5 ways to exercise your brain to stimulate your memory and concentration

  • Increase your focus gradually. Tip: Start with short periods of concentration and gradually increase this time. …
  • Conquer the distractions. 
  • Exercise your body. 
  • Try to memorize. 
  • Practice mindfulness throughout the day.

In this post we answered the question ‘’Can you train your brain to have a photographic memory?’’ We explained what photographic memory consists of and how to train it.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!

References

Feiman, G. (2017). Eidetic Memory and School Age. Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, 54(2), 130-191.

Is there such a thing as a photographic memory? And if so, can it be learned? (2007, March 12). Retrieved February 7, 2021, from Scientific American website: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-such-a-thing-as/

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