Eidetic memory

Eidetic memory (/aɪˈdɛtɪk/; sometimes called photographic memory) is an ability to recall images from memory vividly after only a few instances of exposure, with high precision for a brief time after exposure,[1] without using a mnemonic device.[2] Although the terms eidetic memory and photographic memory are popularly used interchangeably,[1] they are also distinguished, with eidetic memory referring to the ability to view memories like photographs for a few minutes,[3] and photographic memory referring to the ability to recall pages of text or numbers, or similar, in great detail.[4][5] When the concepts are distinguished, eidetic memory is reported to occur in a small number of children and as something generally not found in adults,[2][6] while true photographic memory has never been demonstrated to exist.[5][7]

The word eidetic comes from the Greek word εἶδος (pronounced [êːdos], eidos).[8]

Eidetic or photographic memory

The terms eidetic memory and photographic memory are commonly used interchangeably,[1] but they are also distinguished.[4][5] Scholar Annette Kujawski Taylor stated, "In eidetic memory, a person has an almost faithful mental image snapshot or photograph of an event in their memory. However, eidetic memory is not limited to visual aspects of memory and includes auditory memories as well as various sensory aspects across a range of stimuli associated with a visual image."[9] Author Andrew Hudmon commented: "Examples of people with a photographic-like memory are rare. Eidetic imagery is the ability to remember an image in so much detail, clarity, and accuracy that it is as though the image were still being perceived. It is not perfect, as it is subject to distortions and additions (like episodic memory), and vocalization interferes with the memory."[6]

"Eidetikers", as those who possess this ability are called, report a vivid afterimage that lingers in the visual field with their eyes appearing to scan across the image as it is described.[10][11] Contrary to ordinary mental imagery, eidetic images are externally projected, experienced as "out there" rather than in the mind. Vividness and stability of the image begins to fade within minutes after the removal of the visual stimulus.[3] Lilienfeld et al. stated, "People with eidetic memory can supposedly hold a visual image in their mind with such clarity that they can describe it perfectly or almost perfectly ..., just as we can describe the details of a painting immediately in front of us with near perfect accuracy."[12]

By contrast, photographic memory may be defined as the ability to recall pages of text, numbers, or similar, in great detail, without the visualization that comes with eidetic memory.[4] It may be described as the ability to briefly look at a page of information and then recite it perfectly from memory. This type of ability has never been proven to exist and is considered popular myth.[5][7]


Eidetic memory is typically found only in young children, as it is virtually nonexistent in adults.[5][6] Hudmon stated, "Children possess far more capacity for eidetic imagery than adults, suggesting that a developmental change (such as acquiring language skills) may disrupt the potential for eidetic imagery."[6] Eidetic memory has been found in 2 to 10 percent of children aged 6 to 12. It has been hypothesized that language acquisition and verbal skills allow older children to think more abstractly and thus rely less on visual memory systems. Extensive research has failed to demonstrate consistent correlations between the presence of eidetic imagery and any cognitive, intellectual, neurological or emotional measure.[13]

A few adults have had phenomenal memories (not necessarily of images), but their abilities are also unconnected with their intelligence levels and tend to be highly specialized. In extreme cases, like those of Solomon Shereshevsky and Kim Peek, memory skills can reportedly hinder social skills.[14] Shereshevsky was a trained mnemonist, not an eidetic memoriser, and there are no studies that confirm whether Kim Peek had true eidetic memory.

According to Herman Goldstine, the mathematician John von Neumann was able to recall from memory every book he had ever read.[15]


Scientific skepticism about the existence of eidetic memory was fueled around 1970 by Charles Stromeyer, who studied his future wife, Elizabeth, who claimed that she could recall poetry written in a foreign language that she did not understand years after she had first seen the poem. She also could, apparently, recall random dot patterns with such fidelity as to combine two patterns into a stereoscopic image.[16][17] She remains the only person documented to have passed such a test. However, the methods used in the testing procedures could be considered questionable (especially given the extraordinary nature of the claims being made),[18] as is the fact that the researcher married his subject. Additionally, that the tests have never been repeated (Elizabeth has consistently refused to repeat them)[19] raises further concerns.

Lilienfeld et al. stated: "Some psychologists believe that eidetic memory reflects an unusually long persistence of the iconic image in some lucky people". They added: "More recent evidence raises questions about whether any memories are truly photographic (Rothen, Meier & Ward, 2012). Eidetikers' memories are clearly remarkable, but they are rarely perfect. Their memories often contain minor errors, including information that was not present in the original visual stimulus. So even eidetic memory often appears to be reconstructive".[12]

The American cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, in his book The Society of Mind (1988), considered reports of photographic memory to be an "unfounded myth."[20] Furthermore, there is no scientific consensus regarding the nature, the proper definition, or even the very existence of eidetic imagery, even in children.[3]

Scientific skeptic author Brian Dunning reviewed the literature on the subject of both eidetic and photographic memory in 2016 and concluded that there is "a lack of compelling evidence that eidetic memory exists at all among healthy adults, and no evidence that photographic memory exists. But there's a common theme running through many of these research papers, and that's that the difference between ordinary memory and exceptional memory appears to be one of degree."[21]

Trained mnemonists

To constitute photographic or eidetic memory, the visual recall must persist without the use of mnemonics, expert talent, or other cognitive strategies. Various cases have been reported that rely on such skills and are erroneously attributed to photographic memory.

An example of extraordinary memory abilities being ascribed to eidetic memory comes from the popular interpretations of Adriaan de Groot's classic experiments into the ability of chess grandmasters to memorize complex positions of chess pieces on a chess board. Initially, it was found that these experts could recall surprising amounts of information, far more than nonexperts, suggesting eidetic skills. However, when the experts were presented with arrangements of chess pieces that could never occur in a game, their recall was no better than the nonexperts, suggesting that they had developed an ability to organize certain types of information, rather than possessing innate eidetic ability.

Individuals identified as having a condition known as hyperthymesia are able to remember very intricate details of their own personal lives, but the ability seems not to extend to other, non-autobiographical information.[22] They may have vivid recollections such as who they were with, what they were wearing, and how they were feeling on a specific date many years in the past. Patients under study, such as Jill Price, show brain scans that resemble those with obsessive–compulsive disorder. In fact, Price's unusual autobiographical memory has been attributed as a byproduct of compulsively making journal and diary entries. Hyperthymestic patients may additionally have depression stemming from the inability to forget unpleasant memories and experiences from the past.[23] It is a misconception that hyperthymesia suggests any eidetic ability.

Each year at the World Memory Championships, the world's best memorizers compete for prizes. None of the world's best competitive memorizers has a photographic memory, and no one with claimed eidetic or photographic memory has ever won the championship.

Notable claims

With the questionable exception of Elizabeth Stromeyer, a 2006 article in Slate magazine claimed that, of the people rigorously scientifically tested, no one claiming to have long-term eidetic memory had this ability proven.[19] There are a number of individuals whose extraordinary memory has been labeled "eidetic", but many use mnemonics and other, non-eidetic memory-enhancing exercises. Others have not been thoroughly tested.

See also

  • Ayumu – a chimpanzee whose performance in short-term memory tests is higher than university students
  • Exceptional memory – scientific background to the research into exceptional memory
  • Funes the Memorious – a short story by Jorge Luis Borges discussing the consequences of eidetic memory
  • Hyperthymesia – a condition characterised by superior autobiographical memory
  • Omniscience – particularly in Buddhism where adepts gain capacity to know "the three times" (past, present and future)
  • Synaptic plasticity – ability of the strength of a synapse to change


  1. ^ a b c The terms eidetic memory and photographic memory are often used interchangeably:
    • Dennis Coon (2005). Psychology: A Modular Approach to Mind and Behavior. Cengage Learning. p. 310. ISBN 0534605931. Retrieved May 10, 2016. The term photographic memory is more often used to describe eidetic imagery.
    • Annette Kujawski Taylor (2013). Encyclopedia of Human Memory [3 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 951. ISBN 144080026X. Retrieved May 10, 2016. Eidetic memory is sometimes called photographic memory because individuals who possess eidetic memory can reproduce information from memory in exactly the format in which it was provided during encoding.
    • Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Laura Namy, Nancy Woolf, Graham Jamieson, Anthony Marks, Virginia Slaughter (2014). Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding. Pearson Higher Education. p. 353. ISBN 1486016405. Retrieved May 10, 2016. Iconic memory may help to explain the remarkable phenomenon of eidetic imagery, popularly called 'photographic memory'.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
    • S. Marc Breedlove (2015). Principles of Psychology. Oxford University Press. p. 353. ISBN 0199329362. Retrieved May 10, 2016. If a person had iconic memory that did not fade with time, he or she would have what is sometimes called photographic memory (also called eidetic memory), the ability to recall entire images with extreme detail.
    • Schwitzgebel, E (2002), "How well do we know our own conscious experience? the case of visual imagery" (PDF), Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9 (5–6): 35–53, doi:10.5840/philtopics20002824, ...eidetic imagery, sometimes popularly (but in the view of many theoreticians inaccurately) referred to as ‘photographic memory’.
  2. ^ a b "Eidetic image", Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ a b c "Mental Imagery > Other Quasi-Perceptual Phenomena (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-30.
  4. ^ a b c Anthony Simola (2015). The Roving Mind: A Modern Approach to Cognitive Enhancement. ST Press. p. 117. ISBN 069240905X. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e "No one has a photographic memory". Slate Magazine.
  6. ^ a b c d Andrew Hudmon (2009). Learning and Memory. Infobase Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 1438119577. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Does Photographic Memory Exist?". Scientific American.
  8. ^ "Eidetic". American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed. 2000. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
  9. ^ Annette Kujawski Taylor (2013). Encyclopedia of Human Memory [3 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 1099. ISBN 144080026X. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  10. ^ Searleman, Alan; Herrmann, Douglas J. (1994). Memory from a Broader Perspective. McGraw-Hill. p. 313. ISBN 9780070283879.
  11. ^ "The Truth About Photographic Memory". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2016-04-30.
  12. ^ a b Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Laura Namy, Nancy Woolf, Graham Jamieson, Anthony Marks, Virginia Slaughter (2014). Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding. Pearson Higher Education. p. 353. ISBN 1486016405. Retrieved May 10, 2016.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Behavioral and Brain Sciences – Abstract – Twenty years of haunting eidetic imagery: where's the ghost?".
  14. ^ Barber, Nigel (December 22, 2010). "Remembering everything? Memory searchers suffer from amnesia!". Psychology Today. Sussex. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  15. ^ Goldstine, Herman (1980). The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann. Princeton University Press. p. 167. ISBN 0-691-02367-0.
  16. ^ Stromeyer, C. F.; Psotka, J. (1970). "The detailed texture of eidetic images". Nature. 225 (5230): 346–49. doi:10.1038/225346a0. PMID 5411116.
  17. ^ Thomas, N.J.T. (2010). Other Quasi-Perceptual Phenomena. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  18. ^ Blakemore, C., Braddick, O., & Gregory, R.L. (1970). Detailed Texture of Eidetic Images: A Discussion. Nature, 226, 1267–1268.
  19. ^ a b Foer, Joshua (April 27, 2006). "Kaavya Syndrome: The accused Harvard plagiarist doesn't have a photographic memory. No one does". Slate. Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  20. ^ Minsky, Marvin (1998). Society of Mind. Simon & Schuster. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-671-65713-0. ...we often hear about people with 'photographic memories' that enable them to quickly memorise all the fine details of a complicated picture or a page of text in a few seconds. So far as I can tell, all of these tales are unfounded myths, and only professional magicians or charlatans can produce such demonstrations.
  21. ^ Dunning, Brian. "Skeptoid #452: Photographic Memory". Skeptoid. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  22. ^ "People with Extraordinary Autobiographical Memory". Psychology Today.
  23. ^ "When Memories Never Fade, The Past Can Poison The Present". NPR.org. 27 December 2013.

External links

Adrian Monk

Adrian Monk is the title character and protagonist of the USA Network television series Monk, portrayed by Tony Shalhoub. He is a renowned former homicide detective for the San Francisco Police Department. Monk has obsessive–compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) and multiple phobias, all of which intensified after the murder of his wife Trudy, resulting in his suspension from the department. He works as a private police homicide consultant and undergoes therapy with the ultimate goal of overcoming his grief, taking control of his phobias and disorder, and being reinstated as a police detective.

Series co-creator David Hoberman says that he based Monk partly on himself, and also on other fictional detectives, such as Lt. Columbo, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Other actors considered for the role included Dave Foley, John Ritter, Henry Winkler, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina and Michael Richards. The network eventually chose Shalhoub because they felt he could "bring the humor and passion of Monk to life". Stanley Tucci and Alfred Molina had guest appearances on Monk, with Tucci appearing in season 5 episode "Mr. Monk and the Actor", and Molina appearing in season 6 episode "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man".

Both Monk and Shalhoub have garnered many accolades. Monk was included in Bravo's list of The 100 Greatest Television Characters of All Time, and Shalhoub has won various awards for his portrayal, including a Golden Globe Award, three Primetime Emmy Awards and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Bane (DC Comics)

Bane is a fictional supervillain appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Created by Dennis O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Graham Nolan, he first appeared in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 (January 1993). The character is an adversary of the superhero Batman and belongs to the collective of enemies that make up his rogues gallery. With a mix of brute strength and exceptional intelligence, Bane is often credited as being the only villain to have "broken the bat".

IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time ranked Bane as #34. The character has been substantially adapted from the comics into multiple forms of media, portrayed by Robert Swenson in Batman & Robin and Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises. Bane will appear in the final season of Gotham played by Shane West.

Batman (The Dark Knight Returns)

Batman (Bruce Wayne) is a fictional superhero and an alternative version of the DC Comics character of the same name. This version of Batman was created by Frank Miller and first appeared in The Dark Knight Returns #1 (February 1986). He is regarded as an older, darker interpretation of the character who, after years of retirement, resumes his role as a vigilante and, eventually, a revolutionary freedom fighter.

Exceptional memory

The capacity for exceptional memory can take several forms.

Fox Mulder

FBI Special Agent Fox William Mulder () is a fictional character in the Fox science fiction-supernatural television series The X-Files, played by David Duchovny. Mulder's peers consider his (often correct) theories on extraterrestrial activity as spooky and far-fetched. With his FBI partner Dana Scully, he works in the X-Files office, which is concerned with cases with particularly mysterious or possibly paranormal circumstances that were left unsolved and shelved by the FBI. Mulder was a main character for the first seven seasons, but was limited to a recurring character for the following two seasons. He returns as a main character for the tenth and eleventh seasons.

Mulder made his first appearance in the first season pilot episode, broadcast in 1993. Mulder believes in extraterrestrial unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and a government conspiracy to hide or deny the truth of their existence. Mulder considers the X-Files and the truth behind the supposed conspiracy so important that he has made them the main focus of his life.

Henry J. Mansell

Henry Joseph Mansell (born October 10, 1937) is an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the fourth Archbishop of Hartford, having previously served as Bishop of Buffalo from 1995 to 2003. The Archbishop is believed by many in the Buffalo Diocese to have an eidetic memory, which is different than a photographic memory, being the instant recall of images, sounds and objects. However, he can remember names of, for example, Confirmation candidates without note cards or assistance. Pope Francis accepted Archbishop Mansell's resignation from the pastoral care of the archdiocese on October 29, 2013, the Archbishop having reached the mandatory retirement age a year earlier. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Leonard Paul Blair of Toledo, Ohio as the new Archbishop on the same day.

Lady Cop

The Lady Cop is a fictional police officer, a comic book character published by DC Comics. She debuted in 1st Issue Special #4 (July 1975), and was created by Robert Kanigher and John Rosenberger.

The Lady Cop is Liza Warner, a young woman who watches from beneath a bed as a murderer in cowboy boots slaughters her two roommates, leaving the ace of spades behind as his calling card. Later a policewoman (circa 1975) praises her eidetic memory, calling her a "born police officer". Liza enrolls in the unnamed metropolitan city's police academy, performing her civic duty while hoping to one day find the mysterious "killer in boots". After a long absence, Liza Warner appeared in The All-New Atom #6 and #12, now as chief of police for Ivy Town.

Liza Warner made her live appearance in an episode of the fourth and an episode of the fifth seasons of Arrow played by Rutina Wesley. This version of her was actually an antagonist to the Green Arrow.

List of people claimed to possess an eidetic memory

A number of people claim to have eidetic memory, but science has never found a single verifiable case of photographic memory. Eidetic imagery is virtually nonexistent in adults. Most people showing amazing memory abilities use mnemonic strategies, mostly the method of loci. This includes all winners of the annual World Memory Championships and most of the known scientific cases of excellent memories, like Solomon Shereshevsky. Regardless, the following list contains people who have claimed photographic memory.

Mel Bush

Mel, also sometimes referred to as Melanie, is a fictional character in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. A computer programmer from the 20th Century who is a companion of the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, she was a regular in the programme from 1986 to 1987. Her family name was never revealed on-screen, but production notes and promotional literature refer to her as Melanie Bush. She was portrayed by Bonnie Langford. Mel appeared in six stories (20 episodes) and is the penultimate companion of the classic series.

Motoko Kusanagi

Major Motoko Kusanagi (Japanese: 草薙 素子, Hepburn: Kusanagi Motoko) is the main protagonist in Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell anime and manga series. She is a synthetic "full-body prosthesis" augmented-cybernetic human employed as the field commander of Public Security Section 9, a fictional law-enforcement division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission. Being strong-willed, physically powerful, and highly intelligent, she is well known for her skills in deduction, hacking and military tactics.

River Tam

River Tam is a fictional character of the Firefly franchise.

River is portrayed by actress Summer Glau in the 2002 TV series Firefly and the 2005 film Serenity. The nature of the character and her role in the franchise has garnered both praise and criticism from various reviewers. In 2005, Summer Glau won the SFX Magazine award for Best Actress for her role as River in Serenity. Glau later won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress, again for her role as River in Serenity in May 2006. Glau was also runner up for Best Actress/Movie in the SyFy Genre Awards for 2006.

Robert Langdon

Professor Robert Langdon is a fictional character created by author Dan Brown for his Robert Langdon book series: Angels & Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009), Inferno (2013) and Origin (2017). He is a Harvard University professor of history of art and "symbology" (a fictional field related to the study of historic symbols, which is not methodologically connected to the actual discipline of semiotics).

Tom Hanks portrays Langdon in the Robert Langdon film series, starting with the 2006 film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, reprising the role in the 2009 film adaptation of Angels & Demons, and again in the 2016 film adaptation of Inferno.


For the fictional character from the Al-Qadim campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons, see Selan (Dungeons & Dragons). For the village in Albania, see Selan, Albania.

Selan (born Selan Lerner in Queens, New York, United States) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, musical director and producer who is known for combining electronic, pop, and soul music. He possesses perfect pitch and musical total recall, also known as eidetic memory. He is of Trinidadian and Jewish heritage.

Shawn Spencer

Shawn Spencer is a fictional character and the main protagonist on the American television drama and comedy Psych played by American actor James Roday. Taking advantage of his eidetic memory and keen observational skills, he poses as a psychic and works as a private detective who often consults with the Santa Barbara Police Department.

Sheldon Cooper

Sheldon Lee Cooper, Ph.D., Sc.D., is a fictional character in the CBS television series The Big Bang Theory and its spinoff series Young Sheldon, portrayed by actors Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory and Iain Armitage in Young Sheldon (with Parsons as the latter series' narrator). For his portrayal, Parsons has won four Primetime Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a TCA Award, and two Critics' Choice Television Awards. The character's childhood is the focus of Young Sheldon: the series' first season is set in 1989 when nine-year-old prodigy Sheldon has skipped ahead five grades, to start high school alongside his older brother.

The adult Sheldon is a senior theoretical physicist at The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and for the first ten seasons of The Big Bang Theory shares an apartment with his colleague and best friend, Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki); they are also friends and coworkers with Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar). In season 10, Sheldon moves across the hall with his girlfriend Amy (Mayim Bialik), in the former apartment of Leonard's wife Penny (Kaley Cuoco). He has a genius-level IQ, but displays a fundamental lack of social skills, a tenuous understanding of humor, and difficulty recognizing irony and sarcasm in other people, although he himself often employs them. He exhibits highly idiosyncratic behavior and a general lack of humility, empathy, and toleration. These characteristics provide the majority of the humor involving him, which has caused him to be described as the show's breakout character. Some viewers have asserted that Sheldon's personality is consistent with Asperger syndrome and obsessive–compulsive disorder. Co-creator Bill Prady has stated that Sheldon's character was neither conceived nor developed with regard to any of these traits, although Parsons has said that in his opinion, Sheldon "couldn't display more traits" of Asperger's.

Silk (comics)

Cindy Moon is a fictional Korean American superhero, known as Silk, appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics and created by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos.

Spencer Reid

Spencer Reid is a fictional character from the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds, portrayed by Matthew Gray Gubler. Reid is a genius with an IQ of 187 and can read 20,000 words per minute with an eidetic memory (meaning that he can remember an exceedingly large amount of information with extraordinary detail). He is the youngest member of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), has three BAs and three PhDs (in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Engineering), and specializes in statistics and geographic profiling.

Wang Can

Wang Can (177–217), courtesy name Zhongxuan, was an official, scholar and poet who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He contributed greatly to the establishment of laws and standards during the founding days of the vassal kingdom of Wei – the forerunner of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms period – under the warlord Cao Cao, who was the de facto head of the Han central government in the final years of the Eastern Han dynasty. For his literary achievements, Wang Can was ranked among the Seven Scholars of Jian'an.

Wang Can was also renowned for his eidetic memory. The historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms described an incident where Wang Can was watching a game of weiqi. Someone accidentally knocked into the board and scattered the pieces. Wang Can then placed the pieces back to their original positions based on memory.

Zoe Heriot

Zoe Heriot (sometimes spelled Zoe Herriot) is a fictional character played by Wendy Padbury in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. A young astrophysicist who lived on a space wheel in the 21st century, she was a companion of the Second Doctor and a regular in the programme from 1968 to 1969.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.