According to theories, a person with a photographic memory is capable of remembering scenes and events as detailed, precise images. Numerous scientific studies have suggested that the photographic memory is probably purely legendary, as no demonstrations of a truly photographic memory have ever been documented. Some people, however, have what is known as an eidetic memory, a related but somewhat different concept. The terms “eidetic” and “photographic” are sometimes confused, especially in the popular media, and some people may refer to a photographic memory when they really mean an eidetic memory.
Proponents of the belief that a photographic memory really does exist say that some people are capable of storing information in the form of detailed images which can be recalled at will. A person with such a memory, for example, would be able to describe a painting in detail after seeing it once, or be able to recite passages from a book he or she had only seen in passing. People are in fact capable of such feats, but this appears to be the result of rigorous mental training, rather than an actual photographic memory.
In an eidetic memory, people store visual information with a high level of precision, and this allows them to repeat information in exhaustive detail, but usually only shortly after being exposed to it. Eidetic memory appears to be most common in children, typically fading with age, and some researchers have suggested that this may be because children are more likely to store information in a purely visual way, rather than trying to verbally describe the things they see. For example, someone with an eidetic memory can look at a picture of a dog and later describe it very precisely, but if he or she says “dog” when looking at the image, the level of recall appears to be diminished.
In the case of individuals who have an eidetic memory, they appear to store information in fundamentally different ways which facilitate a very high level of recall. This type of memory is not quite the same thing as the famed “photographic memory” which pops up periodically in the popular media, not least because photographic memories are often attributed to adults, and children are actually more likely to have an eidetic memory.
Numerous people throughout history have demonstrated an astounding ability to memorize things, from the lines of hundreds of plays to the details of visual scenes which they can later reproduce on a canvas. These individuals have sometimes been said to have photographic memories, but the truth is that they probably trained themselves over the course of years. For professionals who work in fields where a good memory is key, such as actors, painters, and musicians, the development of various memory tricks is vitally necessary to success, and these memorization feats were achieved through hard work and dedication, not memory magic.