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What Is Eidetic Imagery?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated May 17, 2024
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Eidetic imagery is a mental phenomenon by which a person produces an extremely detailed picture in his or her mind. The image can be a reproduction of something the person has seen or a self-generated picture based on past experience. Some experts contend that only a limited number of people have the ability to produce a true eidetic image, while others maintain that all individuals are capable of accessing this type of visual recall with the proper techniques.

Often compared to photographic memory, eidetic imagery is frequently used to describe the ability of an individual to recall in extreme detail a picture or object that he or she has seen for only a brief period of time. The recollection is not limited to visual aspects but typically includes other sensory factors, such as the smells, sounds, and emotions experienced when the person first viewed the actual object. An individual who has the ability to recreate an image with such clarity is sometimes referred to as an eidetiker.

The occurrence of eidetic images has been a topic of study and research in the areas of psychology and psychiatry since the early 1900s. Given its subjective nature, in that most research depends upon a person’s individual perception and description of what he or she is seeing, there are varying opinions as to its exact characteristics and applications. While some experts maintain that true eidetic imagery is a unique phenomenon inuring to only a small number of people, other professionals contend that the ability to mentally construct eidetic images can actually be learned, maintaining that the only significant difference between this and other forms of visual imagery is the amount of detail involved.

Many of those who have studied this subject believe that most people are capable of producing some degree of eidetic imagery by retrieving neurologically stored information while in a deeply relaxed state. In fact, a good number of psychotherapists use this technique during treatment. For instance, if a patient suffers from periodic panic attacks, the therapist might have him or her mentally focus on a particularly soothing image, recalling it with as much detail as possible, including the sounds, smells, and feelings of calm it induces. In this way, the patient can use eidetic imagery to cope with the stress and panic.

Certain evidence also suggests that eidetics, as it refers to detailed visual imagery, can be used to assist with memory and recollection. For instance, if a person is asked to memorize a list of items or names, research has shown that recollection improves dramatically if, while the list is read, the individual closes his or her eyes and forms a vivid visual picture for each item. This is especially true if the person concentrates on the mental image for at least 40 to 60 seconds. Follow-up has indicated that, when a person uses this type of memorization technique, he or she can usually mentally recall the eidetic images for months, even years, afterward.

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