Examining The Differences Between Eidetic And Photographic Memory

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Why are some people able to remember minute details and intricate visuals easily? The phenomenon of exceptional memory has been studied for years, and many experts have come up with terms seeking to describe it. Two common terms describing this unique skill have emerged—eidetic memory and photographic memory. In this article, we'll take a deeper look into both types of memory by discussing their defining characteristics and how they differ. From examining the research into eidetic and photographic memory to discussing other types of memory, this article will provide insights into the mechanisms that allow some people to retain and recall vast amounts of information.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Your memory can influence your mental health

Eidetic memory -- definition and examples

Eidetic memory is a form of memory used to recall images in a highly accurate way after only a short period of exposure to them.

Eidetic memory is short-term, thought to only persist for a few minutes at most. Experts believe that this form of memory is primarily utilized by children and is essentially absent among adults. Research suggests that up to 10% of children 6-12 can use eidetic memory.

Children are thought to lose the ability to utilize eidetic memory due to the development of other methods of learning and memorization (e.g., reading), which lessen the need to use one’s visual skills. 

Eidetic memory is thought to be channeled through a projection-like image that manifests in front of the individual, as opposed to a mental image. Though there is evidence that eidetic memory may exist in some people, researchers continue to investigate its sources and characteristics.

Photographic memory – definition and examples

Photographic memory refers to the ability to recall visual information with incredible detail and accuracy over long periods, as though it has been imprinted on the brain like a photograph. The existence of photographic memory has been debated extensively, but there is a general consensus that it is an unproven phenomenon. 

While the scientific evidence for the existence of photographic memory is scant, there is anecdotal evidence of people having the ability to recall large amounts of detailed information. There are several examples of prominent figures who have possessed strong memory skills, including Wolfgang Mozart and Nikola Tesla.

Researchers have been studying this type of memory for years, and while there is still much to learn, their findings have shed light on how the brain processes information and memory. Examining photographic memory can help us better understand the power of the brain and its potential.

Differences between eidetic memory and photographic memory

Eidetic memory and photographic memory both refer to the ability to remember, in detail, information taken in visually. However, eidetic memory is considered a more short-term form of memory—and one that is backed up by evidence, albeit a small amount. Photographic memory, on the other hand, is thought to be a more long-term form of memory. The phenomenon of photographic memory is even less research-backed than that of eidetic memory, leading most experts to deny its existence. 

Most people are able to produce eidetic images. However, eidetic images only last for a moment in eidetic memory—less than a second for most people—before fading away. Very few individuals can remember an image for longer. In contrast, the concept of photographic memory is based on the notion that one can retain an image for a greater duration and recall that image at will.

Getty/MoMo Productions

Other memory skills 

So, if there is a lack of evidence pointing to the existence of eidetic or photographic memory skills, what accounts for some people’s ability to remember large amounts of information for extended periods? Many people do have an enhanced capacity for retaining and recalling vast stores of details. One specific form of such skills is called hyperthymesia. Hyperthymesia refers to exceptional autobiographical memory, which is the memory of one’s life. People with hyperthymesia typically do not have to try to remember information from their life. 

In contrast to people with hyperthymesia, there are also people who are able to memorize vast quantities of information through various memorization skills. These individuals are known as mnemonists. While people with proven forms of exceptional memory may utilize skills that are similar to those of eidetic or photographic types of memory, they typically are not engaging solely in that type of memory. For example, a mnemonist may use their eidetic memory along with other forms of memory to help them encode and store information.

The benefits and challenges of exceptional memory skills

Having a strong memory may seem like a superpower that only a few individuals possess, but it may be accompanied by unique challenges. For those living with this ability, revising for exams or recalling essential details from a meeting may be simple. However, moving past a difficult event, such as the passing of a loved one, may be more difficult for people who have hyperthymesia or who are mnemonists. This can lead to mental health concerns like anxiety or depression.

How to develop memory

Developing our memory skills can significantly improve our daily lives. There are several useful memory techniques you can implement to try and help yourself remember important information better, such as visualization exercises and repetition.

One method gaining popularity is the use of mnemonic devices, which use associations or acronyms to aid in memory retention. Additionally, staying physically active and getting enough sleep can also enhance our cognitive abilities.

The human brain is a complex and fascinating organ that requires proper nutrition to function optimally. Many foods have been identified as helpful for improving memory and boosting cognitive function. For example, blueberries are packed with antioxidants and have been shown to improve communication between brain cells. And dark chocolate contains flavonoids that can improve cerebral blood flow and enhance memory. Additionally, nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds, are rich in vitamin E, which has been linked to higher brain function.

As individuals age, it is common to experience a decline in cognitive function, including memory. But this does not have to be inevitable. There are plenty of strategies one can utilize to improve their general memory. One of the most effective is repeated exposure to information. Repeating information has been shown to strengthen the neural connections responsible for memory retention.

Additionally, engaging in activities that promote a healthy brain, such as exercise and a balanced diet, is essential. Taking active steps to improve your memory can enhance your daily life and help prevent memory-related illnesses in the future.

In today's fast-paced world, staying focused on a task without getting sidetracked by distractions can be challenging. Taking control of these distractions can improve your focus and boost your recall ability. One effective way to do this is to start by identifying the main distractions hindering your productivity. It could be as simple as checking your phone every few minutes or checking your email. Once you have identified these distractions, try to implement strategies to eliminate them. This could mean turning off notifications or setting specific times to check emails. 

Benefits of therapy for memory

Therapy can be a valuable tool for addressing memory or other cognitive concerns. There is a well-established link between our emotions and our cognitive functioning. This is the reason you may remember emotionally charged moments from your life more clearly than other events. A therapist can help you better understand this connection while also addressing complex feelings that may arise out of memory loss or similar concerns. Therapy can also help you address mental health challenges that are impacting your memory, such as depression, anxiety, stress, or insomnia. 

Your memory can influence your mental health

Improving memory through online therapy

Research suggests that online therapy can help individuals address cognitive functioning challenges that may be related to mental health concerns. For example, in a study published in the journal Advances in Cognitive Science, researchers found that online therapy led to improvements in memory of participants experiencing comorbid depression and insomnia. These results can be added to those of an increasingly large number of studies pointing to the efficacy of online therapy for a range of mental health challenges. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how your memory, emotional health, and cognitive well-being interact, consider getting matched with a licensed therapist online. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can schedule sessions at times that work for you and receive regular appointment reminders so that you don’t have to rely on your memory. Your therapist can also connect you with useful resources, such as at-home exercises geared toward helping you improve your cognitive health.  


Eidetic or photographic memory skills are controversial phenomena that, if they exist, may not manifest themselves in the same way that they’ve been purported to over the years. As research into the brain and memory continues to evolve, so does our understanding of the complexities of eidetic memory. If you’re looking to learn more about how your cognitive functioning can influence your mental health, consider connecting with a licensed therapist online. With the right support, you can improve your memory and foster both emotional and cognitive wellness.
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