Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Vivid Visual Thinkers - Blessings and Burdens

When one of our vivid visualizing preschoolers was being tested for a gifted private school, the school psychologist gushed about the possibility he might have a near-photographic memory, but unfortunately he wouldn't make the cut-off for the school. This wouldn't be the last time this student and his parents would see that gifts can also turn out to be burdens, depending on the expectations and tasks at hand.

Webster's dictionary defines eidetic memory as involving "extraordinarily accurate and vivid recall especially of visual images" and in the first systematic study of this form of memory, when elementary school were told to look at a picture like the one on the right, 2-15% were able to recall the picture with a high accuracy of detail, the images seem to last for 40 sec on longer, and additional details were added after their eyes appeared to scan a blank screen in front of them. In a more recent study of eidetic kids (Miller and Peacock, 1982), eidetic kids said that their images lasted 25-180 sec, compared to non-eidetic controls (0-13 sec). The eidetic kids were also more susceptible to interference.

When we test all sorts of individuals with vivid visual thinking, we can see that they can occur in all sorts of varieties - those with strong visual imagery and weak visual memory, or strong visual imagery and strong visual memory, adding to that, the variables of strong or weak spatial memory, and those with or without synesthesia (mingling of senses - seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell) added on. Each variation may prefer different ways of taking in, storing, and retrieving knowledge, so it only follows that different styles of teaching will be more appropriate for some than others.

Common Gifts of Vivid Visual Thinkers


1. Exceptional photographic recall
2. Ability to visually imagine, manipulate, and rotate objects in mind.
3. Cinematic thinking - potentially great for film-making or storytelling
4. Strong recall of detail
5. Strengths in visual analysis, problem-solving, pattern recognition

Common Problems of Vivid Visual Thinkers

1. Trouble Putting Visual Perceptions and Memories into Words - reluctant or late talkers, individuals who know a lot, but have trouble conveying their knowledge
2. Trouble Ordering, Relating, or Connecting Pieces of Information
3. Sensitivity to Visual Overload
4. Increased Tendency Toward False Memories
5. Trouble Retrieving Information - but Cue Can Bring Back a Flood of Knowledge

Earlier this year when we were speaking to preschool through high school teachers at Seattle Jewish Education Council, we found it interesting that groups of teachers (preschool-4th, 5th-middle, high) varied dramatically in terms of their visual imagery and verbal preferences for thinking and remembering... an overwhelming majority of preschool-4th grade teachers indicated their preferences for visual only, while 5th grade-middle school teachers indicated they were mostly verbal (Hebrew middle school emphasizes verbal reasoning), while high school teachers insisted they clearly used both verbal and visual imagery in how they recalled and processed information.

Eide Neurolearning Blog: Vivid Imaginations and the Brain
Eidetic Imagery: Raising More Questions Than Answers
Vividness of Visual Imagery and fMRI
Photographic Memory
Presentation on Cognitive Imagery
Gerald Grow: Teaching for Different Channels of Attention pdf
Gerald Grow: The Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers
Gifted Dyslexic Storytellers (Visualization Strengths)
Thesis of Brain Mechanisms of Visual Awareness (a little visual imagery covered included)

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2 comments:

  1. 2quirky7:32 PM

    Interesting! How does one test for visual imagery and visual memory? I think my son is strong on the first and weak on the second. And if that's the case, is there anything I should do to help him?

    Thanks for a superb blog!

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  2. Thanks, 2 quirky!

    A simple way to test visual memory is to show him a simple pattern (a geometric figure with a pattern inside) - then have him draw it from memory. Can he draw it without describing it in words?

    Ask him whether he can make pictures in his head when he is listening to a story or reading it (this may vary).

    Memory can be trained for different purposes (better listening, note-taking, etc.). We have a lot more information about this (as well as resources) in our book, The Mislabeled Child. Also trying putting in visual and imagery in our search box on this blog. We talk about this quite a bit here.

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