Is it possible to develop photographic memory?

As a child, I honestly thought that having a photographic memory meant being able to remember the last episode of my favorite cartoon, the time it aired and what I liked about that episode. This is correct in some sense, but not entirely. Photographic memory is sometimes interchanged with eidetic memory but they are not the same thing. Eidetic memory is the ability to recall a scenario vividly, even after it has happened but this is temporary. The longer the recall, the less vivid the memory will be. But photographic memory is more permanent.

An individual with a photographic memory can recall an image (or scenario) accurately, even years after the scenario occurred. Some people believe that photographic memory is only present in children, while others believe that it is possible to develop a photographic memory way beyond childhood.

Developing photographic memory is possible using one of two methods for memory training. These are either using the Memory Palace technique or with the Military Memory Method

How rare is it to have a photographic memory?

This question is probably what sparked up the debate on the possibility of possessing a photographic memory. Psychologists say that children are the ones that have been identified to have a photographic memory. There are at least 2.2 billion children all over the world, making up to 24% of the entire world population. And before you think “Oh, that is expected; it is a good thing that children at least have photographic memory”, pause for a minute. Not all children have this ability.

Research shows that the frequency of this ability in children ranges between 3% to 8%. You might think that there is a gender bias; after all, women seem to remember details of a scenario that made them upset or happy. Do not smile like you do not know what I am talking about. Remember the last time you got upset? How about when you got that surprise? You know what I mean now, don’t you? With photographic memory, however, all genders have an equal chance of possessing this ability.

A school of thought postulates that having a photographic memory (especially beyond childhood) is a trait found in certain individuals that have mental disorders. Having a photographic memory has been linked to certain conditions like Autistic Savant Syndrome (where an autistic has an incredible ability to remember images and pictures and make difficult calculations in the shortest time possible). There is also Hyperthymesia (a condition where an individual can accurately recall events that have occurred in his/her life with precise details). These conditions however, are also rare and occur in adults.

The conditions are usually linked to genetic and biological causes; making researchers quite doubtful of the existence and validity of the concept of photographic memory. In fact, many studies seem to have little or no proof of the existence of photographic memory especially in adults, giving rise to the wide belief that many children who possess photographic memory grow out of it.

How you can improve your general memory

You probably thought “Memory? Can it be improved? Isn’t memory like static?” Your memory is not static or fixed. Just like a piece of rubber band, the mind (as well as the memory) can be stretched and improved. This is important because of the role memory plays in our lives in terms of learning. Your memory is useful in helping you process information in such a way that it can be stored. Memory also helps you store the information that has been processed, retaining it in such a way that it can be recalled for future use. This is why you can sit in a class, learn a new concept, store it and remember it during a test or exam.

Memory also helps you think; filing up useful information as well as filtering and discarding the unwanted pieces of information. But it can be frustrating when you feel like you can do better than your current mental capability; and your classmate probably proves that to you. Your memory can be improved through neuroplasticity. The brain processes and stores information through neurons. There are billions of them in the brain that transmit information through signals. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to create new neurons with stronger connections; as well as reroute neural connections. This way, the ability of the brain to store information becomes better. You can improve your memory using a number of methods, some of which include;


Meditation is an art of training the mind to focus on a particular thing, usually an image in order to improve concentration and create awareness in a calm state. Meditation has 2 major benefits; it declutters the mind and it also helps improve focus. This has the overall effect of improving memory.

Sleep and Diet

These are two major ways in which the brain builds new neural connections, and also improves existing neural connections. When you sleep, the body is at rest, and the brain enters a state of rejuvenation, where it repairs damaged neurons and strengthens weak ones. This is why you must ensure that you sleep well. The same principle applies to diet and improving memory. Certain foods we eat help the brain. Foods like Cocoa (dark chocolate), certain nuts and berries, coffee, oranges, eggs, etc, all help improve memory.

Using Mnemonic devices

A mnemonic device is a memory aid that helps you recall information very easily. It can either be an image, or a set of codes that can be easily understood. Frequent use of mnemonic devices can help improve memory significantly.

It is important to note that improving memory is a continuous process that can be carried out for as long as you need to.

What is a memory palace?

Remember I said that a mnemonic device is used to help improve memory by aiding recall? Well, a memory palace is a fun way to store mnemonic devices that you have memorized. A memory palace is a place in your mind where you can keep countless information (using a mnemonic device) so you can remember them later. A memory palace usually involves a familiar place, e.g. a route you frequently travel, a building you love, etc. with locations (called loci) that follow a particular order that enables easy memorization.

History has it that the use of memory palace was invented by a poet named Simonides of Ceos. He attended a ceremony of prestigious men, but was called out to receive a message. Before Simonides would return to the ceremony, however, the building had collapsed, crushing bodies of the guests beyond recognition. However, Simonides realized that he could recognize the bodies by recreating a mental picture of the seating arrangement of the guests in the ceremony. This way, he was able to accurately identify the bodies for burial. Thus, the Memory Palace was born.

The use of memory palace thus started in ancient Greece, at a time when the use of paper was not yet popular. There was the need to use a different means to memorize long speeches and lines of poems. The Memory Palace method thus became popular amongst politicians, philosophers, poets and orators. Technology seems to have trumped the need for memorization in any form, as one click of the mouse can provide you with every information you need. However, there are some concepts that not even technology and the use of the Internet can provide you. For example, when learning a new language, you will need memory power to remember the vocabulary, grammatical structure and pronunciation of some words. This is where the use of memorization techniques like memory palace come into play. With all these said, how is a memory palace made and used?

How to create your own memory palace

To create a memory palace, you will need to carry out the following steps;

Choose a location for the Memory Palace

When creating a Memory Place, it is important that you choose a familiar location to build your memories on. It is no longer a memory palace if you choose a place you have visited only once (e.g. a vacation spot). Pick a route (or place) you use frequently e.g. your house, your route to work (or school), your workspace, etc. This is also important because you need to memorize the details of the location you have chosen in such a way that you can visualize spots within your location very easily. It is sometimes advised that the location you pick should be so familiar that you can remember spots in that location when walking through it forward and backwards. You can also make sketches of the location, choosing spots as you draw. Remember that the spots you choose will be the places you store information; so be definite and precise about the spots you choose.

Fill your Memory Palace with information

After you have chosen a location with defined spots, begin to store information at the spots. To create order, pick the spots in a clockwise manner. When you pick a spot, identify it with the information you want to memorize. You can use mnemonics if the information is quite lengthy. For example, if you are creating a memory palace in your kitchen and you want to memorize phone numbers of your loved ones, you can place your mother’s phone number at the sink (because that is probably her most frequent spot) and your father’s at the door of the fridge, etc. It is important to note that you should not overload each spot with information. The purpose of using a memory palace is not to show that you know a lot of things (quantity), but that you can remember correctly the little you know (quality). You can also use images to help you remember the information you are storing. Using people, scribbles, doodles and other fun methods can also help you remember easily.

Practice and use your memory palace frequently

After creating your memory palace, ensure that you use it often. You can do this by walking through your location every day, memorizing the information you have put in each spot as you move. Doing this consistently will make the information stick to your memory quickly. And if you are done with the information you have put in your memory palace, it is okay to “delete” the information and update your spots with new information. All you have to do is carry out the whole process all over again with the new information. When you practice with the new information, it will stick and you will soon forget the old information.

Your memory palace should be unique to you, so do not be afraid to add stuff that only you would understand and recall information easily.

What is the Military Memory Method?

The military method is another way to develop and improve photographic memory. It basically involves the use of light to stimulate the eyes and mind to memorize a set of information. The military method is majorly used for memorizing texts and passages in books. It is believed that the military memory method is used by officers of the military to develop their skills of observation and memorization. The military method involves using a light source and switching it on and off while focusing on a particular text till you can remember what you have read in the exact way you saw it. This has to be done in a dark room for it to be effective.

This is one of the most popular methods for developing a photographic memory. This is because it is the image captured by the retina that is used to create a memory in the brain. This way, the memory created will be quite accurate. Military Memory Method uses the principle of light and electrical stimulation on the brain to store information and improve memory function.

Does the Military Memory Method work?

There is a lot of debate on this question as well. Some people believe that there is no such thing as photographic memory, so it is not absolute that the military method works. However, the military memory method works because it has been proven to improve memory and memory function in some people. This is not absolute still. The military memory method is only effective for texts and words. There is little research on its effectiveness on visuals and images. To understand how the military memory method works, it is necessary to understand the effect of light and electrical stimulation on the brain in terms of memory function.

Light has positive effects on memory, a concept known as photic memory. Research has shown that there is a specialized cell known as Melapnosin in the eyes that is sensitive to light. This cell also sends signals to the brain to control learning and memory. Information sent to the brain is relayed electrically through chemical transmitters present in the neurons (known as neurotransmitters) of the brain. Neurotransmitters also help with storage of information in the memory.

All of these processes work together to create an accurate photic memory. This photic memory is temporary, so it is important that the military memory method is practiced frequently to create a strong memory with information that is not easily forgotten.

How to do the Military Memory Method

The military memory method can be carried out using the following steps;

  • Get a space in your room where you can read. This space should be comfortable enough for you to read (with a chair and desk) and have a power outlet where you can plug in a desk lamp.
  • Get a piece of black cardboard paper, and cut out a space just enough to read a paragraph of a book. Place this cardboard over the book in such a way that it is only the paragraph you can see through the paper cutout. Ensure that when you sit and look at the book, the distance between the book and your eyes is just enough for you to focus on the paragraph easily.
  • Switch off all lights in the room to create a dark room. Ensure that no light is streaming in through the windows as well. If possible, practice this in a windowless room. Turn off the light of the desk lamp as well. Soon, your eyes will be able to make out shapes and see the book you are reading faintly.  Ensure that you are focusing on the paragraph you want to memorize.
  • Switch the lamp on for a few seconds and then switch it off again. Do this while focusing on the paragraph. You will notice that you will have an image of the paragraph imprinted in your mind for some time. Focus on this image till it begins to fade. Then switch on the lamp again for a few seconds and turn it off.
  • Continue to do this till you can accurately recall the paragraph verbatim. After a while, you will be able to visualize the paragraph just as it is in your mind.

The military memory method should be practiced as frequently as possible (daily) for a while in order to be able to use it effectively.

Other things you can do

Apart from the memory palace and military memory method of improving memory, there are other things you can do to ensure that your memory function remains optimal. They include;

Eating healthy (omega 3’s, etc.)

The wonders of eating healthy cannot be over emphasized. I have previously mentioned some foods that can boost memory. However, I need to reiterate that eating healthy does your body and brain a whole lot of good. One food you cannot go wrong with is Fish that is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Fish like salmon, mackerel, oysters, sardines, etc. are quite rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid improves eye health and boosts memory function as well.


Exercise ensures that the brain gets an adequate supply of oxygen, which helps release neurotransmitters that keep the brain functioning at an optimal level. This is a good reason why you should exercise frequently. With exercise, your body and mind stays in great shape.

Staying busy (don’t do nothing/ don’t get bored)

One way you can ensure a rapid decline in memory function is when you are idle. When you are idle, neural connections become weak and damaged easily. This means that practicing the reverse has more benefits. Whatever you do, ensure that you engage your mind. It can be through story books or cartoons; just keep yourself busy and your mind active.

In conclusion, it is possible that there is nothing like photographic memory. We can leave the debate for the philosophers and scientists to figure out. What you should concern yourself with is the fact that your memory can improve and become so sharp that people think your memory is actually photographic!

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