Total Recall

Total Recall

In May 2007, Prof Richard Wiseman staged ‘Total Recall’ - a three-day public experiment in which two brave volunteers, Jenny and Sarah, were shown 10,000 images to explore the upper limits of human memory.

This unique experiment took place within a specially constructed laboratory at Waterstone's bookstore in Piccadilly, London. The two participants were shown each image for just a few seconds over the course of two days. On day three, they underwent an extensive memory test to discover how many of the images they could remember.

The experiment was originally conducted in the early 1970s by Prof Lionel Standing at Bishop's University in Canada, with participants remembering an astonishing 70% of the images.

It was an extremely difficult study to conduct, and Wiseman was the first to attempt to replicate this quirky and highly controversial finding. But would the original results hold up? If they the answer was yes, it would suggest that we may store far more of the images that bombard us on a daily basis than we realise.

Watch the video below to see Jenny and Sarah just after viewing the 10,000th image.

Total Recall - The Results

After seeing 612 pictures, subjects recognised an average of 98%. After 10,000, the average success rate was 65%. This replicates the findings from the similar study in the 1970s, and suggests that we have a remarkable ability to remember visual material. Although Jenny and Sarah did not expect to perform well in the test, time and again were able to identify whether they had previously seen the test images. Jenny later remarked "I never want to see another photograph again", whilst Sarah noted "it was like being trapped in a room watching someone's endless holiday snaps".

Read more about the results of the study in this article from the Times.

Or this article from the Telegraph

Total Recall Lite - Test Yourself

Total Recall involves presenting a brave volunteer with 10,000 images over the course of three days. You can get a flavour for this strange study, and gain an insight into your own memory, by taking our fun test, Total Recall Lite. It will take just a few minutes, and you need the Flash player (if you can't see the box below you can download the Flash player here).

There are two stages to the test.

STAGE 1: You will be presented with a 1 minute slideshow containing pictures of animals. All of the pictures are different, although some contain the same type of animal (i.e. there might be two different images of the same dog).

STAGE 2: This is a test of your recognition memory. You will be shown 10 pictures. Some of the pictures are drawn from Stage 1 of the test and others are completely new. You will be asked to identify the pictures that you saw during Stage 1.

Click on the button in the box opposite to start the 1 minute slideshow. After viewing the pictures, proceed to Stage 2 by clicking on the button that will appear at the end of the slideshow.

In Quirkology, Prof Wiseman discusses how our recall of everyday events may be far from perfect. Click here to read an extract from the book. (popup)


Quirkology book cover
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