Visual Memory: Definition & Skills

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Visual memory is a skill that is vital in school and in everyday life. Learn the definition of visual memory, long-term versus short-term, skills, and activities to improve visual memory in this lesson.

What Is Visual Memory?

Think you have a good memory? Maybe you should participate in the following university experiment. You are asked to study 15 small pictures of various objects for only 30 seconds. After the 30 seconds is up, you are asked to recall as many of the objects as you can. This experiment is not just testing your memory, but is specifically measuring your visual memory.

Visual memory is the ability to remember or recall information such as activities, pictures or words that have been viewed in the past.

  • Short-term visual memory is the ability to recall images that have just been viewed. A person with poor short-term visual memory might have difficulty copying notes from a marker board because he cannot store what he has seen long enough in his memory to transfer it to his paper.

  • Long-term visual memory is the ability to recall images or places that have been viewed in the past, long enough ago that it was stored into the long-term memory. A mom with poor long-term visual memory might have trouble giving the nanny directions to her child's school because she has difficulty recalling visually how to get there.

Sometimes visual memory deficits are not apparent until a child begins school. Academic problems that are sometimes seen as laziness or low IQ can be actually due to visual memory problems.

Academic Visual Memory Skills

Skill in visual memory in school can assist with:

  • Recognition of letters or numbers
  • Reading and reading comprehension
  • Spelling or remembering sight words
  • Using a calculator (and recognizing symbols on the calculator)
  • Quickly copying notes from a board
  • Forming a mental image of a word, like seeing a picture of a lion in their head when they see the word 'lion'

When a child feels the need to read aloud, this might indicate a visual memory issue as they are attempting to utilize their auditory input and memory in order to compensate for their lack of visual memory. Visual memory skills reach beyond school and be useful on an everyday basis.

Everyday Visual Memory Skills

Skill in visual memory that can be useful on a day-to-day basis include:

  • Recalling where you put important objects such as car keys
  • Ability to give directions
  • Ability to recall details of a person or object, such as the physical characteristics of a burglar
  • Remembering phone numbers
  • Recalling objects/people/animals stored in short or long-term visual memory

Eidetic memory

We all wish we had eidetic memory. Eidetic memory, also known as photographic memory, is the ability to look at something once or only a few times and place highly accurate visual information into the visual memory. Eidetic memory is a form of visual memory. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly had an eidetic memory; he could draw a precise portrait of someone having only met them once.

Benton Visual Retention Test

The Benton Visual Retention Test, commonly referred to as the 'Benton,' is a commonly-used scale to test for visual memory problems in persons aged eight and over. It could be used for a child falling behind in school, or for an adult with a recent head injury needing to be tested for brain damage.

In the Benton Visual Retention Test, a person will be shown a series of diagrams and then will immediately be asked to recall the diagrams.
Benton Visual Retention Test

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