When you were learning algebra and you kept getting various terms and procedures mixed up, you probably wished you had a photographic memory. TV and movies describe photographic memories to us as if they were superpowers, and all of us could use a little superpower in our lives. However, photographic memories aren't nearly as impressive as they seem in the media. This article will introduce you to the reality of having a photographic memory.
"Photographic memory" is the popular term, but the psychological term is eidetic, and it's not limited only to images. People with eidetic memories are able to recall other things, such as sounds, smells, feels, and events, with extreme precision as well. The difference between those with really good memories and those with eidetic memories lies in the details. While those with good memories will need to use tricks to remember, those with eidetic memories will recall extreme detail without effort.
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Though eidetic memories allow people to remember many more details than those with regular memories, eidetic memories are not infallible, like TV shows and movies suggest. Tests of eidetic memories have revealed that mistakes are possible and that the level of detail one recalls decreases as the time between questioning and looking at the topic lengthens. Sometimes the accuracy of recall can drop down to the level of an average person after only a few minutes has passed.
Another unusual characteristic of eidetic memories is that almost no one possesses such spectacular recall in all possible areas of memory. For instance, a person who can glance at hydro bill and recall with accuracy the description of the bill details might not be able to remember the names of all the people she meets or reproduce a sequence of keys she heard played on a piano. In fact, they may be below average in these areas to make up for their talent in memorizing photos.
Eidetic memories are genetic. They can't be learned. But it may be possible to lose them as you grow up, as studies have shown that there are far more eidetic children than adults. Young children may be able to recall photographic details before they turn six and then lose that ability as they learn to process information differently. One theory is that having a photographic memory takes up too much brain power to be practical or useful as the child gets older and needs to remember more broadly.
Either way, having or not having an eidetic memory is not an indicator of intelligence. In fact, some people with learning disabilities can also have eidetic memories.