Can you ‘learn’ how to get a photographic memory?

Ever wondered why some people are ‘just better’ at exams? Those lucky few who appear to do little to no revision, and then walk away with 80+%, much to the envy of the rest of us. Well it’s likely that at least a few of those people have what is commonly known as a ‘photographic memory’. This is where a person has the ability to recall facts and details with incredible accuracy, and is believed to be due to that person being able to access memories much like we access a file on a computer. They see something on a computer screen, in a book, in the sky, pretty much anywhere, and are able to recall the visual information to a degree of accuracy that is quite astounding. The actual process in the brain behind this ability is currently unknown, although there are a number of theories revolving around the variations in use and capacity of different regions within the brain.

A quick browse on the internet will show that there is a huge variation from different sources on exactly how many people have a photographic memory. Starting as low as about 0.25% of total world population (about 17.5 million people) and rising to 20% (1.4 billion people), the difference comes from how the calculations are made. Some researchers claim that a photographic memory is one that does not need training, being only natural – this gives lower numbers – whilst others believe that the human brain can indeed be trained so that a person may ‘gain’ a photographic memory – this produces higher numbers. It’s difficult to say which of these two views is genuinely correct, as the definition of a photographic memory is the ability to recall the facts, not about how they are obtained.

So, is it possible to train yourself to have a photographic memory? It depends on how much effort you want to put into it and how often you think you should need to look at your target to remember it so vividly. Everybody is different, with their brains working in different ways for recalling memories. There are methods out there that claim to allow you to gain a permanent photographic memory, through the use of a target object, a piece of paper, a dark room, and switching a light on and off every day for a month, although this claim is debatable. Another method suggests that it is as simple as just reading or looking at your desired memory two or three times, whilst a further method suggests using association techniques as a reminding tool to imprint the memory and allow you to recall it.

In the lead up to exams I’m sure many people will attempt at least a few techniques to try and ingrain information onto their brains, so a special good luck to those who attempt to train themselves into having a photographic memory! It will certainly help.

Graham Smith

Image: Zara Picken

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