Lecturer's Précis - Haber (1969)

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First published online 14:00 GMT 2nd December 2003, Copyright Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). This version [HT.1 - transfer of copyright] dated 18:00 14th January 2010


Haber's (1969) "Eidetic Images"

The adjective "eidetic" comes from the Greek word eidetikos - pertaining to images, and refers to the somewhat rare ability to retain, and indeed further inspect, a vivid mental image of something after that something has disappeared from sight.

Haber describes eidetic imagery as common in young children, but rare after puberty. His team investigated children in four US elementary schools in the late 1960s and found 20 good imagers out of more than 500 children screened (that is to say, only 4%). They classified as eidetic the 5 to 10 % of subjects who reported still being able to see elements of a target picture (as opposed to merely remembering things about it) half a minute after it had been removed. Such images started to develop after only a few seconds viewing, and the best imagers would retain them for 10 minutes or more. The three-dimenional reversals typical of a Necker cube occurred significantly less frequently when working from images of cubes rather than the real thing: the images were quite "flat", in other words.

Haber's team then profiled the eidetics over a period of several years. There were no differences in IQ, reading ability, personality, sex, and racial grouping. Children could control their own imaging by blinking, which seems to erase the image, or by shifting their attention from the (now blank) plane of the original. Another way to erase the image is to code it verbally. Once a component of an image has been verbally named, it disappeared from the imaged scene, and poor images were found for scenes where the child was forced at the outset to name the components. This seems to imply that eidetics "retain information either in the form of an image or in the form of a verbal memory" (p41), but not both. As a result, eidetics were surprisingly only marginally better than non-eidetics at a scene description from memory task.

Further reading (courtesy of Anna Arnaudo, student at Bryn Mawr College)



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