Visual memory -- the ability to retrieve images from "the mind's eye" -- is of crucial importance to learning. Everyone has different degrees of natural ability, but studies have shown that without practice, this and other areas of cognitive function tend to fade with age. At one end of the ability spectrum are people like the late Kim Peek, the Utah "mega-savant" who was the inspiration for the character played by Dustin Hoffmann in the 1988 movie "Rain Man." Although Peek was unable to manage simple daily tasks, he effortlessly memorized 12,000 books, each eye simultaneously reading a separate page. At the other end of the spectrum are brain-damaged people who have lost all visual memory and can't even recall the appearance of their own faces. You don't have to be able to see to excel at imaging. Blind people use tactile and auditory information to compensate for lack of vision and consistently perform better than sighted people when memory tests are adapted to these senses.

Determining How Your Visual Memory Measures Up

Choose your categories of tests. An Internet search using the keywords "visual memory tests" will yield hundreds of thousands of hits. If you only want to have fun, add "games" to the search box. If you're interested in the kinds of tests that might be administered in a clinical setting, type in "site:edu." Find tests that measure a range of cognitive abilities by typing "visual memory tests" and your areas of interest, for instance: adults, children, facial recognition, math, logic, images, sports IQ, spatial, navigation, objects and scenes, details, spelling, etc.

Take a range of tests. By diversifying, you can focus on measuring specific areas of your visual memory capabilities. Parents interested in determining the aptitudes of their children may find these tests helpful while older adults concerned about age-related deterioration of visual memory can gauge improvements by returning to them after "brain fitness" exercises.

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Create your personal visual memory profile. Most of us already have a general idea of our strengths and weaknesses ,but pinpointing just how strong or how weak we are in various areas can help facilitate such important choices as post-secondary and continuing education programs and career paths.

Tips

  • A comprehensive study of visual memory in older adults conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, has concluded that "brain fitness" exercises can reverse age-related decreases in visual memory ability by about 10 percent, restoring function to the same level as that of younger adults (see Sources).

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