Does Photographic Memory Exist?


| 3 Comments

It is safe to assume that most of us heard the term photographic memory before, talked about it, or heard it in a conversation. But, do you actually know anybody that has a photographic memory? Does it even exist? And if so, how does it work?


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In 1970, Charles Stromeyer, a Harvard Scientist, published a paper in Nature about a Harvard student named Elizabeth.He showed Elizabeth's right eye a pattern of 10,000 random dots. A day later, he showed her left eye another pattern. The astonishing thing was that she mentally fused the two images to form a random-dot stereogram. It seemed that Elizabeth was the first to offer a concrete proof that photographic memory is possible. 


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Seven years later, a guy named, John Meritt, published results of a photographic memory test he had conducted. His hope was to find someone else similar to Elizabeth. About 1 million people tried the test. Only 30 wrote the right answer, and he ended up visiting 15 of them at their home. But, none of them could pull off what Elizabeth did.

 

A lot of skepticism start rising regarding Elizabeth's case. For example, the marriage between her and Stromeyer, no further testing was conducted, and the inabilities to find anyone like her.

Although he denies it, it was concluded that there is something fishy about Stromeyer's findings.

 

One thing to mention, people sometimes confuse photographic memory with eidetic memory. Eidetic memory occurs between 2 and 15 percent of children and very rarely in adults. 


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Overall, there has been another explanation to cases where someone has claimed to have a photographic memory, except for Elizabeth's. Photographic memory's existence is not yet surely proven, but eidetic memory does exist, although it is still unknown why it occurs, what brain mechanisms are behind it, and why it is so rare.

 

What do you think of this phenomena? Do you think photographic memory is just a myth? Could it even be possible to acquire such a skill? Could the data produced by Stromeyer be flawed or bias? Or could it be that photographic memory is so rare, that is it nearly impossible to find people who acquire it? 

 

Please share your thoughts. 

 

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 P.S.


Here is a link to try a photographic memory test. You never know, you might be just like Elizabeth. 

 

 

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3 Comments

Memory is something that really intrigues me. Over the summer I read "Moonwalking with Einstein", a book all about training your memory. The book mentions Elizabeth and the story of her potentially photographic memory. I’m not sold on the idea that this kind of memory exists naturally, but I’m open to the possibility. Another term for photographic memory is eidetic memory. I’ve discussed eidetic memory with professionals before and what they’ve told me is pretty much that this kind of memory is “switched on” based on the amount of attention you’re paying. For example, if you really focus on where you put your keys, and you even say out loud or tell a friend, I’m putting my keys in the top drawer, you’re more likely to visually remember this happening because you are making more items to associate with your keys. What makes eidetic memory so fascinating is when it isn’t intentional and you aren’t meaning to put extra emphasis or focus on a particular item or task. I definitely suggest reading Joshua Foer’s book to get an idea of the methods of memory training and compare that to the photographic memory you’ve blogged about.

I have always believed that I had a photographic memory. I've always been able to look at notes through high school right before a test and then recall how they appeared perfectly. I figured this was photographic memory because of the vivid pictures that I could remember in my mind. I found this test online, http://www.open.edu/openlearn/body-mind/psychology/take-the-photographic-memory-test. It said it would test to see if I indeed had a photographic memory. After looking at the first picture and then seeing the second picture, I could see no correlation. I now think that I probably just have eidetic memory, which I had never heard of before your blog. This seems much more common than the memory of Elizabeth's.

I have always believed that I had a photographic memory. I've always been able to look at notes through high school right before a test and then recall how they appeared perfectly. I figured this was photographic memory because of the vivid pictures that I could remember in my mind. I found this test online, http://www.open.edu/openlearn/body-mind/psychology/take-the-photographic-memory-test. It said it would test to see if I indeed had a photographic memory. After looking at the first picture and then seeing the second picture, I could see no correlation. I now think that I probably just have eidetic memory, which I had never heard of before your blog. This seems much more common than the memory of Elizabeth's.

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