Human Memory

How Does Photographic Memory Work?

Say Cheese

Photographic memory is the ability to memorize and recall everything an individual saw. 

Photographic memory is also:

- Connected closely to short term memories;

- Often misunderstood;

- It usually works best with a phone camera.

Photographic memory works in the brain with sensual cues. An image with a specific illustration is encoded by the brain. This information's storage will be based on that individual's capacity to store what was seen clearly. The chances of this information getting lost over time are highly likely based on studies that were done pertaining to photographic memory. Much truth about photographic memory is explained by World Memory Champion Jonas von Essen, in didactic memory segment. Stating that photographic memory is a mere myth and that not many individuals possess it, in actuality.

Learning and memory are closely tied to remembering things seen in daily life. Looking closer to photographic memory and how it works, there is clear evidence that individuals with overall above average intellectual capabilities can use many other instruments to encode a particular image into their mind. Thus it may appear that all it took was “a glance” and the appearance is captured as if a photo was taken, but this might not be the case. For example, a Mind Palace memorization technique may enable the onlooker to use an associative mnemonic device to later recall a seen image. This is done by connecting new information to an already familiar environment. Once, mentally, passing through this environment again, the objects in one's Mind Palace will correlate to a specific memory. Recall happens, and the images may be replicated.

It may be an assumption that the way photographic memory works in the brain is similar to a camera. A mental photo is taken and stored in the mind. This would be easy if this were the only process the human brain does. Many simultaneous processes of encoding, storing, and recalling are happening at once. Information gets lost or misplaced. Life’s events may shift memories stored in the brain due to stress, malnutrition, and lack of sleep. These various occurrences will hinder the perfect ability to remember an image. Future recall of desired images becomes more comfortable to recognize when other stimulations such as sound, taste, and smell are also used, for example. Even then, ten years later, and it is hard to remember a particular thing in your web of thoughts.

“I wish I had a better memory.”

It is uncommon for people to have a photographic memory, in other terms, an eidetic memory. It is also highly unlikely to be able to newly acquire a photographic memory, but one can try other memory improvement techniques to aid a rather suitable encoding of information. These techniques can make a person’s brain sharper and the ability to focus will have a more extended point of attention. “I wish I had a better memory,” is a widespread aspiration. Indeed, this is a viable asset to have, but with the increase of exposure in memory spectrums, the possibility to possess a rather good memory is a reality. No need to say “cheese” for a mental photo to be taken of somebody's face. This face can be remembered through associative memory, for example. Let’s say we desire to hold better in our memory a person’s face. We know they have black hair, and their name is Bryan. We can associate their black hair to their name. With minimal effort, this is added to our real memory. In order to make the memory stick even better, we can imagine this black hair turning into the whole darkness of the universe. If our imagination and calmness can let us imagine such a thing, our brain will experience this as real life. The sensory stimulation from the vastness and darkness of space may be linked to Bryan through us, encoding his black hair turning into the darkness of the night sky.

Real memory is what we perceive. Often our brain reacts to everything like real life, even the most made-up thoughts. Knowing this, we can use it as an advantage when we want to remember things. Things that are ordinary that are attached to absurd mental movies. Absurd, meaning, irrational to the common thought, natural laws of perception. So when we want to take a mental image of something, we can aim to make it very interesting for our brains to remember. Creating a whole story in our heads around what it is we want to remember. This way, our brain will think, “Wow, so much stimulation, I have to encode this.”

Alex Ruzhytskyi

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