Visual Memory




Visual memory is one of the basic components of learning. Poor visual memory skills can have a profound effect on every type of academic learning. However, it may also express itself as a problem in one specific area. It all depends on the individual.


Visual memory comes in two forms:


Short Term Visual Memory - Holding something in mind that we have just seen. We use this skill in a variety of ways. Copying from one paper to another. Visualizing ourselves carrying out a task. Remembering a number or name to be used in an immediate task.


Short term visual memory is also the path to long term memory. If the visual memory is repeated enough or carries emotional content it is remembered and is placed in long term memory.


Long Term Visual Memory - Visual memory that is recalled from the past.


Long term visual memory also has a profound effect on academics. We use it constantly even if we may not be aware of it.



Visual Memory and Reading


In reading we use it to connect the word with its meaning. We do this by visually recalling a picture of what the word represents. We do this with non-abstract words. Abstractions reside in another part of the brain.



Visual Memory and Writing


In writing we need it to remember what the letter looks like that we are about to form. We also use it, along with visual form canstancy, to construct what we want to say.



Visual Memory and Spelling


In spelling, we remember how a word looks to spell it properly.


Just like the other micro-skills, if visual memory is poor the student will substitute with other micro-skills. For example, when trying to spell a word, a student may attempt to do so with auditory memory. Auditory memory is less efficient at recall tasks and this usually ends up in poor spelling.


On the other hand, if auditory skills are poor often students will develop strong visual skills. This is the way our brain and body work, always sub consciously finding ways to compensate. Although this can develop amazing talents it is also highly beneficial to build up all of the micro-skills for proficiency.


You can sometimes tell that a person is attempting to recall from long term visual memory because they will look up and to their left. Short term visual memory is generally up and to the right. This is not an absolute indicator because it is flipped in some individuals. Being flipped is not a sign of any deficiency.


Visual memory is related to spatial memory but when we speak of visual memory we are generally speaking of non-spatial visual memory. Visualizing objects.


Visual memory is also related to visual form constancy. A more specific form of visual memory which describes our ability to visualize three-dimensional objects as the move and are rotated through space.


Just keep in mind that there is a lot of crossover between visual memory, spatial memory, and visual form constancy. When speaking of visual memory a person my really be referring to any of the three.



Signs of Poor Visual Memory


A student with poor visual memory may show one or more of these signs.


  • Poor Reading Comprehension
  • Difficulty with sight words (sounds them out)
  • Sub vocalizes when reading
  • Poor spelling skills
  • Poor math skills
  • Takes longer copying
  • Difficulty recognizing letters or numbers
  • Trouble using a calculator
  • Slow handwriting
  • Mixing up letters or words when writing
  • May appear lazy in written work


Like any other micro-skill, visual memory can be enhanced by using the proper exercises. Increasing visual memory skills will help with improving academics and overall enjoyment of life. Increased visual memory skills decrease cognitive load in may tasks. Making school work easier and a parents or teachers life much more pleasant.


To learn how the learning system builds up visual memory and other learning micro-skills click here


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