We have all heard stories about people who have an eidetic memory (known more commonly as a photographic memory). These are people who remember extreme details of something even if they have only looked at it for a short period of time, read it through once or experienced it only briefly. Is it true that these people exist?
There is a lot of controversy around the eidetic memory. Some people say that the photographic memory is entirely a myth. They believe that those people who claim to have an eidetic memory actually simply have a close attention to detail, an ability to recall things more vividly than others and a set of tricks that increases their ability to remember things. Others insist that there is such a thing as the photographic memory – that they or someone they know is capable of looking at something for just a short period of time and memorizing in such close detail that it is as if their brain has taken a photograph of it which they can then recall at will.
The truth about memory is probably that human beings remember things on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is the person who has a photographic memory such as that described above. At the other end of the spectrum is the individual who has completely lost his or her memory. The majority of us live in the middle of this memory spectrum where we can remember some things with great detail and yet forget other things completely. As we get older, we often slide further down the spectrum towards the end of forgetfulness. It is difficult to say for sure if there is anyone who resides completely at the end of the spectrum on the side of the eidetic memory but it is certainly true that there are people who are much further along on that spectrum than others.
What is interesting about those people who have traditionally been considered to be eidetekers (the strange name for those people who may possess a photographic memory) is that they do not necessarily have a memory which remembers all details completely. Instead, they have an eidetic memory specific to certain subject areas in life. Many of these are areas of life related to the arts. For example, some people have a strong photographic memory when it comes to music and others can draw a scene in exact details after seeing it only once. Other people seem to have a photographic recall for numbers (people who can recite Pi to an extraordinarily long decimal, for example). And then there are a few rare people who possess a high degree of memory across a range of areas of life.
People with a Photographic Memory
Let’s take a look at some examples of people who have been thought to have a memory that is so far along the spectrum of memory recall that it could be considered to be a photographic memory:
• Kim Peek. This is the man that the movie Rainman was based on. He is an individual who is considered a savant and who possesses the unique combination of a photographic memory along with severe developmental disabilities. It has been analyzed that he recalls over 98% of what he reads and it is said that he can remember the content of over 12,000 books. Because he can recall facts across a diverse range of topics, it is probably fairly accurate to say that he has as close to a true eidetic memory as one can get.
• Nikola Tesla. This inventor and engineer is reported to have had a photographic memory, allowing him to recall what he read and incorporate it into his work.
• Mozart. This is an example of someone that it’s really hard to say for sure whether he had an eidetic memory or not. On the one hand, he certainly had a supreme memory for music. On the other hand, this may be due to intense training and focus in this area of study and have nothing to do with his memory at all. Hans von Bulow and Rachmaninoff are two more examples of people who may or may not have eidetic memory in the specific area of music.
• Swami Vivekananda. This Indian Guru supposedly was capable of reading ten encyclopedia volumes in just a few days and recalling the content of all of them.
• Andriy Slyusarchuk. This man not only memorized the number Pi to the millionth digit but was also able to hear the page number, row and column of a printed version of pi and to cite which number was in that location on the printed table!
What is clear from looking at these examples is that there are certainly people out there who have astounding memory abilities. However, it is not so clear whether they have a true photographic memory or not.
Why Eidetic Memory Interests Us So Much
Eidetic memory is a really fascinating topic that interests the average American to at least some degree. We can see this in the number of television characters who have been created with a photographic memory. This is particularly common to see in television crime shows – examples include the star of the show Monk, the character Zack Ady from Bones and the character Spencer from Criminal Minds. Characters with photographic memory also show up in film and literature and they play a strong role in comic books.
Perhaps it is because the photographic memory is kind of like a super power that it interests us so much. Most of us feel that our memories fail us at least some of the time. We would like to be able to recall more than we do – to remember the scent of our first lover’s skin or to bring back pieces of our childhood that have been lost to time. The idea that there are people out there who can do this with ease is of interest to those of us who find it impossible to imagine. Whether or not those people are “real”, they are certainly something to aspire to!
m price on January 01, 2013:
i have always had this eidetic memory,so have my family.i thought this was normal and everyone had it.now i realise why i have always felt different,that is why i am always at loggerheads with people
Whatevs on November 24, 2012:
Yes, this is real. I just memorized this entire web page- article, comments, and ads, word 4 word. Don't believe me? You're crazy.
HappilyEverAfter on November 19, 2012:
Cool, Pi, that's amazing. My son is like that too, but he just has a really good memory, not as detailed as someone with a photographic or eidetic memory. Tell your daughter she's awesome.
Pi on November 04, 2012:
I know for a fact eidetic memory does exist. My daughter has one. She's only 10, and she knows all her textbooks, Kindergarten-present, cover to cover, copyright page and all, word for word. She has memorized all the volumes of the world encyclopedia. She remembers the day she was born! (I checked with the pictures.) Basically she remembers everything. If that's not eidetic memory, I don't know what is.
Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on September 27, 2012:
Our brains are made to shut off information we don't need. What we do need we remember. What we use we build more neurons for to keep more memories. If remembering everything was cool when we were young, we will remember as much as possible. If one of our parents regularly disagreed with what we remember, we will start to distrust ourselves.
I spoke with a friend tonight who told me she has a photographic memory. She sees situations in her mind and all the details are right there. She thought everyone did that.
I remember in detail certain scenes - my grandmother setting me on the rug in her upstairs bedroom, pouring out her collection of buttons for me to play with, and closing the door behind her as she left. I was two years old. I remember the day of my 4th birthday and everything I did when we visited the San Diego Zoo that day.
But I have a hard time remembering people's names. Why? Knowing people was emotionally hard for me as a kid and we moved a lot anyway, so I shut that part off.
Ashley on August 30, 2012:
Edit memory is very Real. :) I was born with a bad memory, as in don't remember many things that don't seem important. After a while it seems to disappear from my brain. But then I started using Brain games, and now have a close to perfect memory. I have more than average at least. I must see it for a few seconds and then I will memorize it if I focus.
Alex on May 05, 2012:
It's painfully real, believe me. I can remember the wall paper in my bedroom from when I was only 18 months, the clothes I was wearing when I knocked a tooth out at four- this sounds cliché but I promise you it's the truth. The biggest struggle is that it is a constant unvetted barrage if visual information that at times gets mixed up; therefore people think you are either a dunce or drunk when you are neither. There is no shut off valve and so it is very emotionally draining. Would I trade it? Probably not, but it is a tremendous burden.
Lala on February 17, 2012:
I don't have a photographic memory. Although I do agree about the spectrum, and I do believe it is rather curious. You'd think that as you grew older and your schema of various things in life got richer, not only would you be able to remember things better due to your deeper understanding for the topic, but you'd also be able to recall it quicker by the wiring of the neruons being further interconnected.
Instead, it feels more like static. The more memories you have blurred together, and the longer the time has passed since you've had to recall a certain piece of information, the harder it is to see the picture you want.
Once again, I don't have a photographic memory. I remember having a really good one as a child, to the point where I didn't need to study for exams or write things down in planners just to remember due dates. I could read any number of books at one time and never need a book mark. I was a strong visual learner and found that if I took the time absorb a set of numbers or a formula, I could visually "capture" it and recall it weeks later as if I were staring at a picture.
But time has passed and my memory has waned. I have a really, really bad memory. Now I must make use of mnemonics and my unique learning style.
Anyway, interesting article!
Slide1 on February 08, 2012:
This is horrible. I have been looking for what is wrong with me. Its not like this at all. I'm not Batman that can see every detail of everything or else I would be rich. I am in the arts which is interesting, but I have to tell you I CAN'T SHUT IT OFF! I have tried everything and I live every moment of my past like its happening again. I can hear, feel, see, and smell my surroundings in every memory. When I go out to eat I can hear all the conversations around me and I will never forget the conversations. It takes a lot of will power to tune everything out and listen to who is in front of me. I feel things more deeply then most people since I will feel them over and over again. When its good its great, when its bad its horrible. People say they wish they had this but on my end of the spectrum I can't sleep most nights and then wake up early since I can't shut my brain down. I have tried all sorts of treatments such as counseling, prescriptions, and even drugs to dull this thing. Sometimes its fun to see my grandmother again so vividly, but the funeral is just as real every time. I have been tested for ADHD adn all sorts of things and I'm fine. Funny enough I now also teach history.
James on February 08, 2012:
Vivien Leigh (check) & me. Want proof?
Mario on January 13, 2012:
some people have it at birth
some people can develop it by training the memory and the focus part of your brain
i personally trained it for 2 and a half years and i have it
NJP on January 04, 2012:
Let's not forget about Temple Grandin! One the most influential minds in agriculture and farming in our time. She is amazing!
ajjromine on October 04, 2011:
Sensible on September 17, 2011:
Realise that almost anyone who says they believe in eidetic memory claims to have it? Yet most of their "proof" goes against what Ms Vercillo has wrote just above? The kind of stuff they should be using their eidetic memory to remember?
Lucia on September 02, 2011:
I have a perfectly normal memory.
There. At least I know one person is telling the truth on this site.
I can remember Pi to 25 digits but only because I was bored in maths when I was 14 and it was written on the wall...
... that is the extent of my memory.
Kent H. on July 23, 2011:
Ive read some of the comments above and i think some are far from the truth. Eidetic Memory is not something you can learn or teach. Its neither a stragedy to think. Its your brains neurons thats been wired from birth, so the conclusion is that only a very few has it truly. "Cindy" has, i think, the most accurate explanation here i guess, but i will explain my view too...
Eidetic Memory happens when the part of your brain that controls and "extracts" the data from your eyes, get more developed than your other parts of the body when you are an embryo. The person is capable of storing and using visual data that to the average person is seemed as something impossible.
But theres also an artificial, less powerfull variant of it, commonly called Mnemonics. The ability to learn to think the ways the Eidetic is of course impossible, because their born with it. But you could compare it to philosophy, where you learn to think diffently apart from other people. This way of thinking can learn you to make you aware of visual patterns of colours to store the memory in the brain easily. People that haven't Eidetic Memory of learned Mnemonics, can still have moments of "insight" as they maybe get some sort of motivation or may naturally think different apart from people around Him/Her.
And now the part where i tell the best... Eidetic Memory also called Photographic Memory is where you can on minimal time, remember everything down to the last detail. Watching on a paper with seemingly weird figures that doesn't make sense doesn't matter, they remember it anyways. Usually this "power" is noticed from they are 5-6 years old, but mostly it show really potential when your are 12+ as the brain develops. This is of course when you dont learn to draw. I can do all mentioned and therefore I think Im the closest on this hub that is where you truly call it "Eidetic Memory"
I can draw almost exact landscapes, houses and persons from memory without any prior drawing lessons or helping tools. Im 16 years old and its still developing...
Henry on July 12, 2011:
Loved this post! Yes eidetic, or photographic memory, is totally real! You can even learn it:
Apparently we all have it, we just have to learn how to use it. Thank you for this post, love the discussion it's sparked!
User on June 19, 2011:
I use to have or at least believe to have eidetic memory when i was younger and exercised my brain everyday. I remember this because I was studying for an exam and the next day during the exam I was able to visualize the book in front of me. I didn't know this was eidetic memory I just thought iw was normal until I asked someone, if I am able to see the textbook in front of me without it actually being there is it cheating?
Well, now my memory is more like a blur than a real photograph but it was fun while it lasted.... I can still visualize a blurred image of that book till now.
Mohan Kumar from UK on January 28, 2011:
Fascinating hub! I as much enjoyed the hub as the comments it has triggered. Memory is a great subject and the research into memory is something that has interested me for a long time. I do have a good memory perhaps not eidetic but very visual and I unconsciously use links and connections to anchor new learning. voted up!
Cindy on January 12, 2011:
I meant to say "green eyes" not "green hair"!!
Cindy on January 12, 2011:
I wonder if some of you have synesthesia. A hallmark of synesthesia is an excellent memory. Three people in my extended family are gifted with this trait. All are able to match colors perfectly, "see" music which enables perfect pitch, and memorize things really well because of multi-sensory input. They have extra neural pathways between their senses and that gives them a memory boost. They recall things in extraordinary detail from decades ago, etc. It is a genetic trait, like left-handedness or green hair. You are born with it. Many people don't know they have it because they assume everyone else sees the world in their multi-colored way.
David.Reed on January 07, 2011:
People with eidetic memory simply have amazing strategies for remembering things, most of which is completely out of a person's conscious awareness. The interesting thing is that you can take someone who has a 'bad memory' and train them into having a good one. Tony Buzan was excellent at doing this!
Roberto Autran Nunes on December 29, 2010:
Memória eidética, ou fotográfica, é a capacidade de se lembrar de coisas ouvidas e vistas, com um nível de detalhe quase perfeito. É um tipo de quase-memória sensorial, cujo tempo de permanência é de cerca de 20 milissegundos. Precede a memória de curto prazo.
William Cobb from Columbia, SC on December 24, 2010:
Enjoyed this hub... With Med School looming in a couple of weeks, I wish I had photographic memory.
Mike on November 27, 2010:
I believe I have an eidetic memory if i hear a beat on the drums or play it once i can play it for ever even if i havnt played for 3 years i can start and play just as well as i could before if i take something apart such as vehicles or computers i will remember wer every screw was the shape of every part what it was connected to markings on it if i go threw a dance move once slow i can do it at full speed everytime no matter how long it has bin I can remember what was on every wall and every manufacturing defect in a room i can recall how almost all of the toys are in my kids room when they are all on the floor when i remember what has been said to me i remember the posture facial expression and attitude of that person at the time they said it i can also tell if you are lying and what emotions people are having If i no how to do the math i can do it in my head unless the numbers are extremly large.... sometimes the images in my head go so fast it is hard to focus on what is going on around me and all i can see or think about are the images that are going through my head sometimes when it happens people go through great lengths to make me snap out of it... However i can not remember a damn thing i have ever read even if i read it five minutes ago i believe this is because you can only read one or two words at a time. unless it was very short. I also can forget bad times i have had completely like i deleated the picture. I can say that this "Gift" can be very maddining and frustrating sometimes i need the racing images to stop and i cant get them to... people aften refer to me as a man on a mission when this happens and it is because if i cant figure it out or fix it the images wont stop for a long time until something new starts
Renee on November 18, 2010:
I have a photographic memory with numbers only. 2 of my children also have this. I dont understand how people can say its not true. I am 45 and I have had it all my life. I recently just found out my son and daughter both have it as well. Say what u want , but I know its true. One example is one day at work i received a call from a co-worker to come over to her building to take her some material. SHe gave me her cell number to call when I got in the building. I wrote it down on a little sticky note. I forgot to take it with me. But whe I got there and realized I had forgotten the sticky with the number on it, I thought for a minute back to writing it down and I could see the number. I called her and it was right. Its really weird and I only have this capability with numbers????
Bob on September 28, 2010:
I sort of have that because if I write something down I remember it no matter what. Which I like because I never study and yet I get straight A's but I'm not sure if writing counts.
Hannah on September 19, 2010:
Yes it is true, i have a near photograhic memory, not to the degree of some of the people listed above but, i can tell you what i book i read in 3rd grade was about, or sing along to a song i have only heard once. I also can recall almost everything i see, whether it be a picture or a person. i didn't do anything to develop it i have just always had it.
Lea on July 22, 2010:
I have a semi eidetic memory.
And you spelled Addy (as in Zack from Bones) wrong.
Lindsay on July 02, 2010:
I can picture scenes from years ago in almost perfect detail... but it may just be because something happened then that was drastic and I don't remember that part... or something. I remember numbers and sentences and quotes better than pictures, but I'm not bad at music. I don't know if I believe in photographic memory or not, but I do have an okay memory myself!
h2 on May 14, 2010:
My sister and I both have eidetic memories. While it is a useful tool if I misplace something and need to find it quickly, I am very uncomfortable with this situation. I am able to control when I use it but beyond going after something I specifically need to remember, if there was physical pain or any unpleasantness at all involved in the original incident, all of that also comes back. It is very disconcerting at times and I hope it continues to be something I intentionally turn on only when I want to. The mere thought of it taking over so to speak, is frightening at least to me.
Beggita on April 27, 2010:
ive been told a few times now that i have a photographic memory nad wanted to find out more about it and this is the first search that it lead me to. I can even remember things that is not related to me. for example when my boyfriend was looking for his pen, he didn't even remember where he put it but i remember clearly seeing a pen in the compartment of his car. in my head it was like a flashback. i seem to unconsciously remember every detail in my surrounding but only when i get the flashback do i realise i remember everything. is that a photographic memory or just normal?
Yui on April 04, 2010:
Wow .if it really exist..my memory really bad ..i forget just after 1 minutes thing i saw
sabi on March 24, 2010:
I don't think i have this kind of memory because its hard for me to remember the name of my class fellows but i can remember the name and dates read in books related to history
sandy on March 16, 2010:
Have always wondered what buzz word you would use for my
memory. I write things I want to remember. When the
time comes for recall if it is not instantly in my mind I
close my eyes and read it. I see it as I wrote it. I can
see how it is written and on what part of the page. Music
is really easy. I listen to the piece as it's played on the
piano and it's in my mind forever. Comes in handy as my
husband and I have a music ministry. Childhood memories
are vivid also. I recall in detail events from the time
I was three. I am now 66 and the old memory is holding in
kbentz on March 16, 2010:
One of the difficulties in having an eidetic memory is when the memory starts to fade it can be quite jolting, having never learned memory tricks. I used to be able to view a music score and thereafter simply close my eyes and "read it", recalling the notes and lyrics in complete detail. This used to include most of the hymnbook. To be unable to do this, and to have "swiss cheese" recollection of things that used to be clear as crystal is distressing. Also, I never forgot a face, and could place them even years later and grown up. Now, at 45, I have for the first time had zero recollection of someone I knew for some time, whose appearance had not changed. It's weird when that has never happened before.
larkspur on February 27, 2010:
I don't know if I have this eidetic memory but people are so amazed with so many things that I recall. Lets say there's an event 15 years ago, I would usually recall the month and date of when the event happened, recalling details about it that other people don't usually recall. I kinda agree with the mnemonic device, because most of the time, I could remember the clothes that I was wearing in that event,and I would could link those clothes to certain year and month because I would recall when I bought all those clothes. But this is only true to things that I am interested about because I don't remember all the details of my projects at work.
Gomad on February 25, 2010:
Is eidetic memory real? As a college student at the ripe old age of 40, I did what most students did at that time, I used a highlighter for material that would probably be included in tests. I had never before been questioned about having an eidetic memory until after a quiz by my psychology professor. I had forgotten to highlight a term and the definition that appeared on a quiz. I had closed my eyes, was scanning the page for that needed term and definition but was having problems "seeing" what I needed because a color photograph of a field of sunflowers ( my highlighter was yellow) was located on the left page of the textbook, at the top of the right column and immediately above the term and definition I was trying to "see".
Prior to my next class, my professor stopped me and asked me if I had a "photographic" memory. Informing her that I wasn't aware of it, she asked me what I was doing with my eyes closed during the test, with my index finger in the air as if I was scanning a document. I explained I was having difficulty "seeing" a certain term and definition because the sunflowers were interfering with what I was looking for. During that subsequent class, she handed out a sheet of paper with 10 figures such as circles, triangles, rectangles but with a twist for each figure, ex. the circle didn't close fully, wasn't a perfect circle, had a slight indentation, didn't closed completely and had a tail at the top. We were given approximately 1 minute to study the figures and then were asked to draw the figures. After the class, she stopped me and said I probably had a photographic memory based on my drawings. This took place in 1994
Years later, I was a Laboratory Information Specialist. On one of my days off, my boss called me at home because of a computer problem after the merging of computer data with a sister hospital ( same computer system, different laboratory equipment, different billing codes). I talked her through the 5 pages of screens for each test that was malfunctioning, explaining what field and their location on each page that she needed to check and verify or change. My next shift she asked if I had a photographic memory. I was surprised because I had never mentioned what my psychology professor had said to me approximately 10 years before. This happened around 2002.
It doesn't work the way most people think. The time spent looking at words, numbers or objects or the immediate emotional impact of what you see determines how well you visually recall the information.
A gift when applied to education or employment. A curse when ( if you are an animal lover like I am) you cannot stop seeing dead animals on roads or when you can still see your now deceased and much beloved pets.
Sensitivity to sound, related or not I don't know. ( I have never spent time researching eidetic memory). I have always been very proficient diagnosing problems with my vehicles, household appliances and laboratory equipment I worked with based on sound.
Is speed reading related? In my college courses, I always sat in the front row of the class. On quiz, test days, I sat close to the door. I can complete a 100 question, multiple choice test in about 5 minutes (longer for essay questions). I always received skeptical looks from my professor(s) after the first test(s).
Surprisingly, my preference in college was math related
courses (except Trigonometry, which was memorization of formulas applying tangent, cotangent, secant, cosecant, etc.)
I do not equate eidetic memory (if it exists) as intelligence, but, rather as a tool. It's not made me smart in finances, relationships or even in the ability to keep from getting lost while trying to translate a one dimensional road map into actual three dimension directions.
How can it be considered intelligence when I have trouble assembling a flat cardboard storage box from the diagrams that will transform it into a three dimensional object.
Renee S from Virginia on February 08, 2010:
Quite interesting subject. Enjoyed reading it.
Bruce on January 27, 2010:
Lol...I love the comments 'I have a photographic memory... but I can't remember everything...and it fades over time.'
Uhhhh...then you DON'T have a photographic memory. No one does, sorry.
User on January 22, 2010:
There is nothing like an eidetic memory and Andriy Slyusarchuk is a scam.
The proof is easy:
There are annual World Memory Championships since 1990. There is lots of prize money for the winner. For example 90,000 US$ this year.
All the winners ever use memory techniques. Noone, who claims to have an eidetic memory ever succeeded. The World record is 2080 digits in one hour. If someone had an eidetic memory and could save a visual image of the sheet with numbers on it, he would easily win. And since the prize money is very high, it is 100% that anyone who really had an eidetic memory would have come to take that money. But noone ever did. Proof done.
Andrew on January 21, 2010:
Editic memory does exist just go on wikipedia and look up child prodigy and see the list of people 30 sec to memorize 1 page and its there forever most people think they do when they really dont maybe more NMDAR in there brains might make them rember better then most ..
Kitkatkits on December 08, 2009:
I'm sorry Julia Ware put that is not eidetic memory, having more of a visual memory is very common and lots of people have it, myself included, like is I want to remember something I just have to picture it. But we are very fare from looking at view, going home and being able to draw it nearly perfectly..
Gayle on October 19, 2009:
I have a heightened visual memory which comes in handy for finding things, matching colors for home & fashion design, finding the perfect gift and remembering details about people and their lifes, etc. However, I also have a very handy memory filing system that is a gift straight from God...The uncanny ability to forget bad things. My brain naturally focuses on the good in everything and files the bad in the dead and buried files that are only referred to in dior emergencies! Remembering everything in detail can be an awful burden. I am equally thankful for my gift of forgetfullness!
Ron on October 08, 2009:
yeah, i happen to have the eiditic memory, and like someone said before. its mostly images. if you hear a sound and can make it into a picture, you can remember it. but sadly you cant remember every fine detail...just most
Julia Ware on September 26, 2009:
I happen to have eiditec or a photographic memory. I don't recall "everything", and it doesn't work like you have described it. It's a visual thing. If I look closely at something, or read it "several" times, I can picture it in my mind. Let me give you an example. If I closed my eyes and someone read me a passage in a book, I probably wouldn't remember it. If I concentrated on the same words while I was reading them myself, I could "see" in my mind, exactly what I had read. It doesn't happen every time, or all the time. Sometimes unintentionally, as with recalling colors in exact detail, and sometimes when I intentionally am trying to remember something. It's not a magic trick, it's the way my brain is wired.
Ken on August 06, 2009:
Yes, this ability is very real.
You can read my brief description at:
My comment is the one titled "Wow, great website!"
There are many other great comments as well.
Roohi Khan from India on April 29, 2009:
I loved reading this hub. I surely don't have any photographic memory, but I sure would love to remember everything.
Thanks. It was an interesting read.
Shaheen Lakhan on March 21, 2009:
Thanks for submitting this post to our blog carnival. We just published the 44th edition of Brain Blogging and your article was featured!
marcofratelli from Australia on February 28, 2009:
Fascinating. I would love to have the ability of near-total recall! You can catch out everyone that lies as well! :)