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What is Eidetic Memory?

By Brenda Scott
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Eidetic memory, also known as photographic memory, is the ability to recall with vivid accuracy things that have been heard, seen or read. This appears more frequently in children than in adults, and usually involves visual images such as artistic illustrations. Other people have exhibited eidetic memory for music, and are able to play a piece, sometimes even a long composition, after hearing it for a brief time.

Perhaps the most compelling modern example of this condition is Kim Peek, the man upon which the movie Rain Man was based. Peek was born with FG syndrome, characterized by physical abnormalities and developmental delays, and other brain malformations. Even though his IQ test scores are fairly low, he reads books in less than an hour, and can recite them with almost complete accuracy, even years later. His mental library contains over twelve thousand books on a wide range of topics. Unlike most people, whose memory becomes less precise over time, Peek’s memory and social skills seem to have become more developed with age.

There are rare cases of other adults who exhibit the ability to recall, with incredible detail, visual scenes, numbers, and written texts. Sometimes these events, such as memorizing the order of a deck of cards, are short-lived but appear to be photographic in nature. Many psychologists attribute the ability of others to remember extensive amounts of material over long periods of time not to photographic abilities, but to highly developed memory skills.

There is a great deal of controversy regarding whether eidetic memory actually exists, or if some people simply have the ability to organize data quickly, or have developed techniques which assist in mental recall. Testing indicates that true photographic memory appears more often in children than adults, and is short-lived. Many eidetekes, or people with eidetic memory, exhibit this in one particular area, such as art, music, numbers, words or settings, and not across the entire spectrum of visual or auditory perception

Mozart is thought by some to have possessed eidetic memory for music. Born into a musical family, he began to compose short, beautiful pieces on his own by the age of five. At six, he had already mastered the keyboard and began to perform publicly. He soon became a violin virtuoso, and by age nine began composing symphonies. Though there is no doubt that he possessed an incredible memory for music, some psychiatrists attribute his early start not to total recall, but to training and the musical environment in which he was raised.

Tests for eidetic memory in children involve decomposing an illustration into two sets of apparently meaningless dots, which, when superimposed, create a picture. Children are shown the sets separately for a few seconds and then asked to describe what they have seen. A small percentage of children visually merge the dots into the proper picture, and describe it in great detail as if they are looking at it. The memory, however, generally fades in a few minutes.

While most people do not possess the enviable gift of total recall, a number of games and techniques have been created to help develop visual memory. Many of these involve computer games. In some, random dots appear upon lines and the player attempts to memorize them, while other games utilize three dimensional images. Other memory enhancement tools use mnemonic devices, or verbal formulas and rhymes to improve recall.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1000806 — On Jan 05, 2019

I have been able to remember using and visualizing events and memories from as young as 3. I was never a good student felt lost in the class with so many students and the one basic way of teaching.

It wasn't until years later working in special education with students 15-21 and how we were teaching them that I finally figured out algebra in class with my student in one class. My whole life, people and my family have been in awe of my memory.

By Proxy414 — On Feb 09, 2011


I have heard that the expression "in the first place...in the second place..." comes from this ancient method. People were once able to memorize long speeches using this.

By Armas1313 — On Feb 07, 2011

I have found the loci method to be a very helpful way to recall information for a long period of time. Depending on how detailed your method of loci is, you can recall varying levels of detail. Basically, what it comes down to is a tying of memories to given familiar locations in your mind, from past homes or past locations with familiar architecture. You assign each bit of essential information to a room which you associate with a number. In lists, you can immediately recall which item corresponds to which number based on the room you put it in in your mind.

By FitzMaurice — On Feb 06, 2011


Most people do not focus on these skills in school. It is sad to see how our educational system spends so much time on so many useless subjects which have no benefit in the real world. It is to be hoped that the internet will provide outlets for people who really want to learn important information.

By BostonIrish — On Feb 03, 2011

To improve the memory to the point of possessing an eidetic memory is a considerable feat, but merely requires time and devotion, like any other endeavor. Developing this skill can benefit you for your whole life and cause you to excel well beyond your peers. The people with the best memory are often trusted with valuable and important information and are given high positions.

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