For most of us, memories are a constantly changing thing, non-existent beyond a certain past age. Can you remember anything before, say, 7 years old? Sigmund Freud used to call our inability to recall memories from our youth “childhood amnesia,” and a study last year found these memories faded between 3 and 7 years old, with only the most vivid memories, marked by times, dates, and places, making it through.
So it’s rather anomalous when you come across someone with photographic memory. Writing on Quora, one commenter mentions an instance in which he was less than a year old when his first memory stuck. “I can remember as a baby — less than a year old — being bathed in the kitchen sink after dinner. I recall the sounds (but not the meaning) of the conversation, the details of the room, and how I comprehended certain features that seemed to make no sense as a child of that age, but would be completely sensible to someone older.” Other commenters with photographic memory, which is also known as eidetic memory, say they’re able to recall basically anything they’ve read, from navigational directions to class notes.
While there’s no question whether eidetic memory is real, it’s unclear to what extent. Each commenter on Quora mentions their memory isn’t photographic to the point that they can instantaneously recall memories. That falls in line with other research suggesting people with eidetic memory must reconstruct the memories. And as we all know, our brains are constantly distorting the past. So, while photographic memory may be real, it still takes conscious effort to memorize, and even then, some aspects of the entire picture may be biased toward that person’s expectations.
Researchers at the University of Iowa Department of Psychology have developed a test, along with Bang Goes the Theory and The Open University, so you can see if you have eidetic memory. The test includes 10 questions that get harder as you go alone. Even if you feel like you’re just guessing, it’s worth getting through, since some people don’t even realize they have the ability. It’s also important to note that not every test is perfect, but the researchers are using the test to vet potential participants for a more serious study, so it should be accurate.
You can take the test here.