What Is A Visual Memory And How Does It Affect Us?

Updated October 6, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Visual Memory Affects How We Learn And Live

Memory is not a single entity. Rather, there are a number of different types of memory. In this article, we will discuss visual memory. What is it? How can you improve it? Let's find out.

What Is Visual Memory?

The term visual memory is self-explanatory. Recalling something we've seen – visual patterns, visual memory games, words, letters, numbers, or any type of visual stimuli –­­­ is one of the most basic ways we learn. If you have a hard time recalling what you’ve seen, it will be more difficult to learn. There are two types of visual memory:

  • Short-term visual memory. This is when we can recall something we've seen not too long ago. Short-term memory is regularly used in our day-to-day lives. An artist can see an object in their environment and then immediately sketch it. We can copy text that we read. After viewing a password, we remember it until we can write it down. We see a lot in our lives, so most of our short-term memory is just that: short term. It disappears fairly quickly if the memory has no use to us. However, if the exposure is repeated enough times, or if the memory has some emotion attached to it, the memory becomes long-term.
  • Long-term visual memory. This is when you can recall a visual memory from your past. Again, memories with strong emotional associations are most likely to stay in your mind. Odds are, you have some childhood memories you can recall vividly. You can paint the pictures in your mind with ease. Long-term memories can also be created because of repeated sightings. For example, when you repeatedly drive to a location, you will eventually learn the route without using GPS or any other aid.

Visual memory is important in the world of learning; as much as 80 percent of what we learn is visual. The following are a few examples of how we learn but you can understand how you learn best by speaking with an online therapist.

Reading And Writing

As we learn to read, we remember images of the words we see. As we learn to write, we recall the appearance of each letter. And when we’re learning to type, we may look at the keyboard at first to find where each letter is located. As we learn how to use a keyboard, we can easily visualize — or remember — where each letter is.


When we try to remember how to spell a word, we do this by picturing the word in our minds. (You probably don't even realize this!)

Visual Memory Problems: How To Know When Your Visual Memory Is Poor

Someone who has a problem with visual memory, particularly a child, may display the following signs:

  • Reading comprehension may be poor, and they may have to sound out every word.
  • Spelling may be poor.
  • Math skills may be poor, and using a calculator may be challenging.
  • The individual may have trouble copying words and other images.
  • They may have a difficult time recognizing numbers and letters.
  • They may write slowly and mix up letters.

Someone with a poor visual memory may use other forms of memory to compensate. Some people with visual memory problems may use auditory memory, which involves “sounding the memory out.” For example, when you're trying to spell something, you may hear the letters in your head instead of seeing the visual information. Auditory memory isn't as effective as visual memory, so someone with poor visual memory can't substitute it entirely. On the other hand, if someone has poor auditory skills, they will substitute visual skills that are much better.

Fun Facts About Visual Memory

If someone is trying to recall a long-term visual memory, they will tend to look up and to the left. If they look up and to the right, they are likely to be trying to recall a short-term visual memory. However, not all people have these “tells.” Some reverse this pattern, and others don’t have it at all. A visual memory test can help you learn more about how your own visual memory may work.

Visual memory is similar to spatial memory, which involves us recording the space around us. However, visual memory, for the most part, means that you are looking at the objects in your environment rather than the space. Visual memory is also related to something called visual form constancy. This refers to your mind’s ability to create an image, manipulate that image, and imagine the various outcomes. This process is mostly used for 3D objects that we can rotate in our minds.

How To Enhance Visual Memory

If you are or your child is experiencing difficulties with visual memory in your daily life, or if you just want to help strengthen it, exercises can help. Here are a few ideas you can implement if you want to improve visual memory. The ideas are geared toward children, but they can be useful for adults as well.

Visual Memory Affects How We Learn And Live

The I-Spy Game

Everyone knows about the I-Spy game. Maybe you’ve played it for fun during a road trip when you were a child, or just while walking down the street. It's fun, and it’s a good way to boost your visual memory. Look around in the environment and find an object. Then describe it. The person must digest the world around them and look for anything that matches the description of the object. The more obscure, the better.

What's Different?

This game can be played in different ways. There are activity books and games online where you're shown two similar pictures. However, these pictures have minor differences that you must find. For example, if the picture shows two trees, each may have a different number of branches. The What's Different game usually lists how many differences there are, making it easy to know when you’ve found them all.

In real life, you can play the What's Different game by putting a few objects on a table and then having your child look away or close their eyes. Then you replace or rearrange the objects. Your child must figure out what is different.

Match Game

One of the most popular memory games, a simple game of matching cards can improve visual memory in children and adults. We've all played this. There are an even number of face-down cards, with pairs having the same picture on their face. In turn, each player flips over two cards at a time; when they find both cards with the same image, they put it the cards in their pile and take another turn. Whoever has the most cards in their pile when all pairs have been claimed wins.

Ask Questions

To help someone with their visual memory, you can ask questions about their day. Ask them what they did for lunch, what they did after school, and so on. They will need to rely on visual memory to find the answers.

Write Neatly

When your child is given a handout at school, make sure they fill it in neatly. Writing neatly is a sign that your child is recalling all parts of each letter accurately.

Use Both Audio and Visual Memory

To enhance written instructions, for example on a homework assignment, give your child verbal instructions as well. This reinforcement helps not only with auditory learning but also with connecting the dots between auditory and visual memory. In other words, wherever your child has a visual memory, you are helping to place an auditory memory beside it. This can enhance both types of memory.

The above are just a few ways to help enhance visual memory. Having a strong visual memory is a much-needed skill in life, so it the earlier it can be practiced, the better.

Seeking Help!

If you or your child is having trouble with visual memory, you seek help by speaking to a licensed counselor. A counselor can assess learning deficits and strengths and come up with a plan. A counselor can help as well if you are experiencing challenges with memory due to aging. Speak to a counselor today and see how they can help.

Psychotherapy for Learning Disabilities

In a study of 200 elementary school children with learning disabilities, two types of group therapy were offered: cognitive behavioral group therapy and humanistic group therapy. Findings included the following: 1) when either type of group treatment was added to individual academic assistance, results were better than with academic assistance only; 2) for the most part, therapy alone was more effective than academic assistance alone; and 3) humanistic group therapy was more effective overall than cognitive behavioral group therapy. Moreover, most of the progress was maintained at follow-up, and progress on some outcome measures increased.

Online Therapy for Learning Disabilities

As discussed above, therapy can help your child with learning disabilities such as visual memory impairment. But your child may be afraid to attend in-person therapy. This is where online therapy comes in. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped adults and children with learning disabilities. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“This counselor has done a fantastic job of helping and encouraging me to accept my disability. And make peace with my limitations.”

Scott Silver - (More reviews)JD,MSW,LCSW

“Martha is the most amazing counselor. She is caring and Will let you talk through your concerns and it really helps understand so many things. She will also give you tools that you can use like worksheets to help you maintain structure in your peace and learning. It’s really good to be reminded of how amazing you are as a person even though you forget a lot of the time.”

Martha Meador - (More reviews)MS,LPC

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