Visual Memory: Definition, Types and Importance for Academic Achievement

In 1969 Laszlo Virag was tried and initially convicted of being a person who had committed armed robberies in Liverpool and Bristol. He was convicted on the basis of testimony from several witnesses who picked him out of line-ups or identified him from photographs. One police witness claimed that “his face is imprinted on my brain”.

But it transpired that another person, known as George Payen, was responsible for these crimes — someone who bore a passing but not striking resemblance to Mr. Virag. Mr. Virag was pardoned in 1974, having been the victim of a miscarriage of justice based upon mistaken identity.

Visual memory is the ability to remember or recall information such as faces, pictures or words that have been viewed in the past. Researchers have subdivided visual memory into three main subsystems: visual sensory memory, visual short-term memory, and visual long-term memory.

Visual sensory memory

Visual sensory memory – also named iconic memory — can easily be experienced by going into a dark room with a flash camera and taking a picture. Although the camera’s flashbulb will provide only a few milliseconds of illumination, the perception of the illuminated room will fade over a period of about half a second.

Visual short-term memory

Visual short-term memory (VSTM) stores visual information for a few seconds so that it can be used in the service of ongoing cognitive tasks. Compared with iconic memory representations, VSTM representations are longer lasting, more abstract, and more durable.

A large amount of evidence indicates that verbal STM and visual STM are distinct memory stores. For example, brain damage can lead to a disruption of verbal STM without a disruption of visual STM and vice versa, and it is possible to occupy verbal STM with one task without impacting visual STM for another task and vice versa.

A more controversial proposal, however, is that VSTM can be subdivided into two separate storage subsystems, one for spatial information and another for object identity information. One source of evidence for this proposal comes from interference studies, which assess the degree of interference between a memory task and a concurrent nonmemory task. These studies have shown that some concurrent tasks interfere with spatial memory performance but not with object memory, whereas other concurrent tasks interfere with object memory but not with spatial memory. In addition, neuropsychological studies have shown that it is possible to disrupt object memory without disrupting spatial memory, or vice versa.

Visual long-term memory

Short-term memory for visual materials is highly limited in capacity, but long-term memory for visual stimuli has no clear capacity limit. After viewing 600 photographs of scenes and events, subjects recognized 92% of images when tested one day later, and 63% of images when tested one year later. Such dramatic differences in capacity are vividly depicted in the titles of two widely cited articles, “Learning 10,000 Pictures” (Standing, 1973), and “The Magical Number 4 in Short-term Memory” (Cowan, 2001).

Visual memory and academics

Visual memory is a critical factor in reading, spelling and writing. Children who have not developed their visual memory skills cannot readily reproduce a sequence of visual stimuli. They frequently experience difficulty in remembering the overall visual appearance of words or the letter sequence of words for reading and spelling. They may remember the letters of a word but often cannot remember their order, or they may know the initial letter and configuration of the word without having absorbed the details, that is, the subsequent letters of the word. As a result, these children fail to develop a good sight vocabulary and frequently experience serious spelling difficulties.

It can be terribly frustrating for one with a visual memory deficit to perform a handwriting or word copying exercise. Children with difficulty in visual memory will have trouble copying letters, words, and sentences from a board or book. They may present with very slow handwriting, trouble forming letters, and mixing up letters or words within sentences. Producing written work on worksheets and tests may be difficult.

Lufi and Cohen compared the VSTM of 24 children with Attentional Deficit Disorder (ADD) with a control group of 17 children with emotional problems. The results showed that the control group performed significantly better than the ADD group, which confirms that VSTM plays an important role in attention and concentration.

A study by Kulp et al. concluded that visual memory should be considered to be amongst the skills that are significantly related to mathematics achievement.

Although an important cognitive ability for many intellectual tasks, the measurement of VSTM is usually not a part of the standard batteries that measure intelligence, aptitude, and achievement.

Visual memory can be trained

Edublox Online Tutor (EOT) houses a number of multisensory cognitive training programs that enable learners to overcome learning obstacles and reach their full potential.

EOT is founded on pedagogical research and 30+ years of experience demonstrating that weak underlying cognitive skills account for the majority of learning difficulties. Underlying cognitive skills include visual memory. Specific cognitive exercises can strengthen these weaknesses leading to increased performance in reading, spelling, writing, math and learning.

In one research study Edublox improved visual memory by 1.3 years in 5 days (22.5 hours). Chiropractor Dr. Jaidan Mays compared the effects of Edublox training versus Edublox training combined with cervical spinal manipulative therapy on visual memory and visual sequential memory.

The results: The mean score across both groups improved from 6.2 years to 7.5 years. As the graph below illustrates, the Edublox Group improved slightly more than the Edublox and Adjustment Group (an improvement from 6.3 to 7.8 years versus an improvement from 6.2 to 7.1 years):

EOT has been optimized for children aged between 7 and 13, is suitable for the gifted and less gifted, and can be used at home and in school. The program is effective for a variety of learning difficulties including including dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and ADD/ADHD.

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Kimberly, United States