10 Ways Literacy Can Promote A Deeper Understanding Of Math Photographic Memory – Is It for Real?

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Photographic Memory – Is It for Real?

Photographic or eidetic memory is thought to occur in 10% of the population and is considered a rare event. This type of memory is controversial and not well defined at this time. It is believed to be found in some children, however, they tend to lose this memory as they enter adulthood. Some neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and linguistics define photographic memory as a person’s ability to recall images, sounds, or objects accurately, as well as large amounts of information, and to do so quickly. Think of it as a kind of xerox memory. You might think that this would be an advantage, but in reality in many cases it is not. Too often you pick up too much information that is irrelevant and can block the meaning of what you are seeing. My father had a photographic memory with an IQ of 160. He could recite entire pages of text and tell you what page he was on, but he had little understanding of the deeper meaning. On the other hand, I have brain connections between the math centers in the right brain with the frontal eye fields. This allows me to see the equations in picture or graph form in my mind. I’ve found this to be helpful because I don’t have to remember a complicated equation because I can derive it from the mental image I see. This has been an advantage in physics, chemistry and biology courses.

Many people claim to have some kind of photographic memory, but in fact they don’t. Most of these people are using mnemonic devices to grasp information quickly. Mnemonic devices means that you play some game with the information with numbers, various shapes or position in space and reconstruct the information from that image. This is not a photographic memory. Photographic memory remembers the entire event with great precision as it is. There is no game. This is what makes it difficult to determine whether an individual actually has eidetic memory. How much an individual has learned interferes with the actual memory event. The eidetic memory must be fast and accurate.

Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding photographic memory stems from an overuse of the term to refer to unusual memory capacity in general. Most unusual memory skills have been observed to come from learned skills and natural abilities, as well as high-level reading ability and non-perfect recall. It is assumed that eidetic memory is not processed by the brain, which is very different from normal memory which is processed and interpreted and has an associated meaning. The first studies done on professional chess players were misinterpreted. I’m sure you know that chess players can remember every move in a game and can memorize complex moves to the point where they know every possible move. It was once thought to be photographic in nature. However, later studies blew this myth apart. The researchers placed chess pieces in places that were illegal moves and found that these chess players had no better memory than the average person. The professional chess player has ways of organizing chess moves in memory that made them seem like they had photographic memories. Most people are able to memorize complicated chess moves if given enough time using an alphanumeric code.

There is no doubt that some people have incredible memories, however, eidetic memory is an extremely rare event. In the strictest sense, eidetic memory refers to the perfect recall of some information without mental processing of any kind or the use of mnemonic devices. There is no doubt that using mnemonic devices can greatly increase your memory capacity, so use these devices. I often provide multiple devices to my college students to reduce the burden of memorizing large amounts of data. Simple diagrams with numbers/letters can contain a lot of information in a condensed form.

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