It is unclear whether photographic memory is real, and while it may not be attainable, mental exercises and lifestyle changes can improve a person’s overall memory.
The mind is adept at processing and storing important visual information. While most people are able to recount specific parts of the things they see, those with photographic memory claim to permanently remember entire scenes with great detail. They may be able to do so after only seeing an image briefly.
Memory and recollection are difficult to quantify in a scientific setting. Due to this, there is currently no conclusive evidence that photographic memory is real.
People who believe themselves to have photographic memory say they can look at an image or scene, and remember it in its entirety – like storing a complete mental picture. It is not clear whether this is due to a difference in memory capability or a case of enhanced visual learning.
While we do know that the brain has a capacity for retaining visual, long-term memories, it is difficult to assess how good a person’s visual memory is.
Some people use the terms photographic memory and eidetic memory interchangeably, but these two phenomena are different. People who believe they have photographic memories say they can recall visuals for very long periods of time, or permanently, without alterations in detail.
Most other people are able to assess visual images and recall them once they look away. People refer to this as eidetic memory.
How long people can recall the image, and to what level of detail, will vary from person to person.
People who claim to have a photographic memory can store large amounts of visual information almost indefinitely after small visual exposures. The exact reason for this is unclear.
Research has found that the brain can process images and store them in its long-term memory systems after only brief exposure. Long-term image memory rates also increase when a person sees the same object, or scene, multiple times. Those with photographic memories may be able to commit more information to their long-term memory.
There are other forms of short-term visual memory. For example, visual working memory is integral to our daily lives. The mind can store information from visual stimuli, allowing us to tale relevant action. However, our visual working memory can only store small amounts of visual data.
Iconic memory systems can store large amounts of visual data, but
There’s no scientific evidence that you can train your memory to become photographic. However, there are lifestyle and dietary changes that can improve your overall working memory.
Regular exercise can improve working memory, as well as provide multiple other health benefits.
A 2021 review found that performing
Mindfulness training can
For example, a 2021 study of college students found that certain meditation techniques can improve short-term memory function and attention.
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function, including memory.
A 2022 randomized clinical trial found that supplementation of Omega-3, carotenoids, and vitamin E can improve working memory in older adults. A
Keeping your brain active is the best way to boost your memory.
Try mnemonic systems
Mnemonics use patterns of associations, letters, images, or ideas to help you remember something.
A simple mnemonic system might be to rhyme the name of a person you just met with a word you can easily recall. You would then remember the word when you wish to call up the person’s name.
Some mnemonic systems include:
- The loci method: This memory-boosting strategy dates back to the days of the Roman Empire and is also referred to as the memory palace. To try it, follow these steps:
- Think of the thing you want to remember and create a visual image of it.
- Create an association with the thing you wish to remember. For example, if you want to remember an address, visualize the written address on a front door that you visualize in exquisite detail, including the color, door knocker, and any other imagery.
- When you wish to recall the actual address, visualize the front door and the address should pop into your mind.
- Some people find that this system works best if the imagery they conjure up is extreme, irrational, bizarre, silly, or funny.
- The peg system: This system correlates things you know well, such as the alphabet, with things you wish to remember. It works by creating an association or a reminder. To do it:
- Generate a mental image of a peg with a letter or number on it.
- Then hang what you want to remember on it.
Other memory boosters
Other tips to boost your memory include:
- learning a new language
- doing puzzles
- getting enough sleep
- reading books, newspapers, and magazine articles — the more challenging the better
- adding at least one vocabulary word to your repertoire each day
Science hasn’t been able to prove the existence of actual photographic memory. It is possible that some children display a type of photographic memory recall known as eidetic memory, but this hasn’t been conclusively proven.
While it may not be possible to train your brain to have a photographic memory, you can improve your memory through mnemonics and other techniques. Simple things like sleep and exercise also help boost memory.