Genuinely “photographic” memories are exceptionally rare. Also called highly superior autobiographical memory (Hsam), this ability is only verified by one institution, the Centre for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine.
The center describes people with Hsam as having “a superior ability to recall specific details of autobiographical events”. They “tend to spend a large amount of time thinking about their past and have a detailed understanding of the calendar and its patterns.
For those born without the natural gift of phenomenal recall, there are tricks and techniques that train the brain into a better memory muscle.
According to Gail Robinson, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the Queensland Brain Institute, “the magic ingredient is paying attention”.
“In neuropsychology, if someone has a patchy memory, we look at how good their attention is; what else are they thinking about,” she says.
“Paying attention is a different skill from memory. And it’s absolutely a skill you can develop. That part is nurture. It requires focus, being selective on the information you retain, and encoding that. Deep focus is key – and social media feeds are killing that skill.”