Visual Memory

 Visual Memory is an important part of learning

If it can be visualized, it can be easily remembered.
—— Harry Lorayne, Page a Minute memory Book, p. 12

This has been known for many centuries. According to Harry Lorayne, “Aristotle said in one of his books on memory: In order to think, we must speculate with images.”  Page a Minute Memory Book, p. 12.

Visual Memory helps us remember what we have seen

This is a lovely path with water-worn rocks on the right and trees on the left.Here, our photo of an interesting pathway serves as a symbol of the pathways of learning, and of Visual Memory, in particular.

It illustrates an important fact about visual memory. The more carefully you observe, the better you will remember.

If you look at this photograph in the usual casual way, you might think to yourself that it is lovely, that it is interesting, that you’ve never been near anything quite like it.

BUT chances are you will not remember it clearly. By tomorrow you might have forgotten it entirely.

If on the other hand, if you were actually there. If you walked along this pathway, you would be likely to remember it more clearly, unless …

Unless you weren’t focusing on it, if, perhaps you were too busy talking to a friend to look around, if you were experiencing pains in your chest and you were worrying that it might be a heart attack, if you were so exhausted from walking for hours that you were concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, hoping you would soon get back to your hotel where you could get something to eat and drink, take a shower and go to bed. If we are exhausted, under a great deal of stress, or busy thinking about something else, we don’t learn well and we don’t remember well.


Now, Stop right here. Look away from the computer and describe what you remember about the picture. Imagine the picture in your mind. Does this help you remember any details?

Now, take a few minutes to study the picture. Imagine that you will be tested on your memory of what you see.


It is interesting how much more we see when we pay close attention.

Imagine that you are at a party. You meet someone you don’t expect to see again, someone you aren’t interested in. You probably don’t pay attention to this person’s name and you don’t study the details of this person’s  appearance unless they are exceptionally beautiful, ugly or strange in some way.

But, when you see people you are interested in, people you’d like to know better, you pay close attention to their names. You study the details of their faces.  You will know these people when you see them.

We also remember details when we feel strong emotions. Imagine that you are walking down a street at 2 AM.  A strange man is walking toward you. He has something heavy in his pocket. Is it a gun? If you are brave enough to look at his face, you begin to memorize the details. You imagine needing to identify him in a police line-up.

Imagine that you are lost in the woods. A hiker finds you and leads you back to your car. You are incredibly grateful. He might have saved your life. You remember this person’s face and name much more clearly than the dozen or so hikers you met before you got lost. Fear and gratefulness are strong emotions.

How much do you still remember?

Now — after this break — let’s find out how much you learned about the picture. Don’t look back at it until you are done.

1. The path is   A. paved   B. gravel   C. sand with a few rocks   D. totally sand

2. What is on the right side of the path?   A. rocks    B. trees     C. a fence    D. houses

3. What is on the left side of the path?     A. rocks    B. trees     C. a grassy field    D. a lovely lake

4. How are the rocks further back different from rocks closer to you ? __________________________

5. As you continue down the path  A. It  ends. B. It turns right, C. It turns left. D. It continues in a fairly straight line.

6. The rocks along the side are  A.smooth  B.rough  C.bumps with sharp edges D. rounded bumps with interesting patterns.

7. How many tree trunks are seen in the foreground ( with no leaves seen)?  A. 3   B. 5    C. 7    D. 9 or more.

8. Behind these trees near the top you see  A. several large palm trees with straight dark trunks  B. 3 brown cows   C. a lovely lake  D. distant houses.

9. Tree trunks in the foreground are  A. straight like telephone poles  B. Very thick  C. Curving gracefully D. Bent at sharp angles

10. At the top right, above the rocks, you see  A. trees or bushes  B. a field of flowers  C. three brown cows  D. tall grass.

If you’re not sure, guess and then check the picture again. What do you see now that you missed before? Notice that here, as in other learning, testing yourself can lead to improved memory.

Why do you need to improve your visual memory?

1. You will study some material using diagrams and charts. You might organize material using concept maps, compare/contrast charts, timelines, and  other visual organizers. These are more helpful if you use you visual memory to remember them.

In biology, we dissect a number of creatures and learn to identify the various organs, bones, muscles, nerves, and so on. For tests you may sometimes look at dissected specimens with tiny numbered flag pins, and identify the tissues. This requires visual memory.

In statistical charts seen in many subjects, you need to understand and interpret the meaning. If you watch a demonstration in chemistry, in mechanics or in cooking, it is important to remember what they did and in what order. We learn better if we develop a better visual memory.

2. You need to develop your visual memory of the people you know and work with. When you listen to a lecture, you should be alert to your professor’s body language and facial expressions. These will give you clues to help you understand the lecture. He is telling you what is important and what things irritate him.

3. When you make friends, you want to remember them and recognize them later, (even after they have a new A pretty girl with dark hair, a half-smile, and side-ways glance.haircut!) Just as you tried to focus on the details of the photograph above, you need to focus on the features of the person you are meeting. Form a mental picture. You will use this skill for much more than making friends. To be successful in business, you need to recognize and call by name the many people who work with you.

Galina, the girl in the picture is pretty enough but it isn’t easy to say what she looks like. When you see her again, he mouth won’t have that same half-smile. Her eyes won’t be looking to the side. Her hair might be done differently. We cannot remember people’s faces by using a verbal description. We need to use our visual memory.

Otherwise it will be like the witness to a crime who describes the man she saw as about average height. His weight – not too thin, but not heavy… sort of in-between.  And his features… “Well, he wasn’t really handsome, but he wasn’t ugly either. He just looked ordinary if you know what I mean.”

The police won’t even try to find someone with this description. But, although the witness cannot describe him, there is a good chance she could identify him in a lineup.  Our brains are able to distinguish different faces, even when we can’t describe them in words.

4. You can use visualization to help you remember difficult vocabulary, both in your first language and in any languages you are learning. We will deal with this under Relational Memory.

Links to other pathways of memory:

Practical Memory                          Rote Memory                     Mnemonics (memory tricks)

Auditory Memory                          Kinesthetic Memory

Relational Memory                      Emotional Memory                       Storytelling in Memory

Multiple Pathways                       Scheduled Reviews             research: Processing Memory

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