Children's eidetic memory

Eidetic images are usually generated spontaneously in children and by choice in adults.

The mental abilities required to make compelling nature photographs may be opposite those that lock in an enduring, photographic memory of a scene. To the best of my knowledge no child under the age of 10 has produced a genius body of work appreciated at the highest level by adults unaware of the age of the artist.”

Children have the edge, no doubt, because they lack an adult's competing mental clutter. A means of organizing data seems to be the key to all superior memory, eidetic or otherwise. For example, expert chess players can re-create a board position involving two dozen pieces with great precision due to their knowledge of the game. But if the pieces are placed randomly on the board, the expert players' recall is no better than a novice's.

There’s a sound evolutionary reason why young children have such a potentially dysfunctional memory. Visual input is held wide open because only through life experiences can a sense of relevance for what should be held in memory is gained. Research professor Steven Rose further explains in his book, The Making of Memory, that the human race evolved in situations where “it was a good bet that the environment in which one grew up would be virtually identical to that in which one spent one’s entire adult life. Hence the eidetic memory of childhood, enabling rules of perception to be developed, could smoothly transpose at the approach of puberty into the more linear forms of adult memory.”

Studies have concluded that up to half of young children have vivid eidetic memory . Many have it to such a strong degree that, with no prior instruction, they can count the stripes on the Cheshire cat’s tail well after being shown an illustration from Alice in Wonderland or spell out words in a foreign language they don’t know after seeing them a complex photograph. The rare few who retain it as adults generally live confused, unhappy lives with failed relationships. One eidetic man could clearly remember every face, but failed to recognize people in social situations because his precise mind imprinted frontal views, oblique views, and profiles as separate memories.

Great nature photography usually happens with a conscious passion for how we want a scene to look in the mind of another as we distill the situation before our eyes down to its essentials. Children tend to see photographs identically, without sensing any interpretive artistry. An image is merely a substitute for the real thing, assessed as if the actual scene was being observed.

The remarkable performances of some child protegies in activities that begin with simplicity and gradually attain complexity, such as music, dance, and painting, do not transfer over to nature photography, which becomes visually compelling through the reverse course of previsualizing essential order and simplicity out of the great complexity of the natural world.

Although Elizabeth is an extreme case, a study done by L. R. Haber and R. N. Haber (1964) documented similar behavior in children with eidetic imagery. The subjects were exposed to a detailed picture placed on an easel for thirty seconds. When the picture was taken away, the children scanned the blank easel in order to describe the image. Their descriptions were given in the present tense, as if they were still looking at the image. From various studies, Haber and Haber found that it is vary rare; approximately 2-15% of elementary school age children are capable of eidetic imagery. There was no connection between gender and incidences of eidetic memory . The images lasted at least forty seconds and could persist for up to several minutes. They also had a wide range of accuracy; they could be highly detailed or fragmentary. Participants could voluntarily terminate these images by blinking or looking away. If not terminated, the eidetic images involuntarily faded in a similar manner.