Cashier allegedly using 'photographic memory' to steal credit card information

This looks like inaccurate reporting (or just overly sensational), but it’s still interesting. “Memory techniques” sounds more likely than “photographic memory”.

A store cashier in Tokyo been arrested on allegations of stealing the credit card information of 1,300 customers using just one tool – his memory.

The part-time worker was arrested Thursday for stealing credit card details to buy $2,600 (270,000 Japanese yen) worth of bags from online shopping sites last March, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.

The suspect has a photographic memory and police have found a notebook with card details listed in it, said the source working on the investigation.


I’m glad to see that the media are already casting doubt on the claim. Memory championships get mentioned in the article.

But science doesn’t really back the claims of his photographic memory.

Scientists have not found evidence of photographic memories, but there are people with very good memories who can recall information in astounding detail — an eidetic memory — according to Daniel Burns, a professor of psychology at Union College in New York.

Most people conflate having an eidetic memory with a photographic memory, but scientists who study memory draw a hard line between the two, he said. A person with an eidetic memory is able to recall an image in great detail after seeing it once, with the ability to remember the image up to four minutes. But the eidetic image is not identical even though it has many perceptual similarities, according to Burns. Furthermore, eidetic memory is most commonly found in children between the ages of 6 and 12, and it’s hardly ever found in adults, according to research.

“In our mind, a ‘photographic memory’ is being able to look at something and days later call up a picture that’s identical to the actual image,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to exist.”


Also, if he had a photographic memory, they wouldn’t have found details of the credit cards in a notebook…the article is self refuting.


Yes, that is kind of strange. :slight_smile:

“The suspect has a photographic memory and police have found a notebook with card details listed in it, said the source working on the investigation.”

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“In our mind, a ‘photographic memory’ is being able to look at something and days later call up a picture that’s identical to the actual image,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to exist.”

Except that it does exist. Like in autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire.


Though it is not photographic by the full definition. The bigger picture is a match in his works, but he misses out on details. Which is another difference between a (partial) eidetic memory and a photographic memory.


I would love for photographic memory to exist, but I feel like I have to remain wary of that term until I see really solid evidence. It seems like a test for “photographic memory” should work with complex patterns of random dots (“photographically”), not just with images that are related to a topic of unusually intense, lifelong focus. (buildings, numbers, music, autobiographical events, etc.) Those kinds of memory abilities are extraordinary, but I think that more study is needed before coming to a firm conclusion about how they work. From what I’ve read, even full eidetic memory isn’t necessarily accurate, and as far as I know, no one has ever been able to pass that kind of “photographic” test.


The fact that something like this is entirely doable with mnemonics is evidence that the art of memory has really come far. Perhaps one day it will get to a photographic memory equivalent.

The way I distinguish photographic memory from other kinds of memory is that a photographic memory can just simply take a 1000 page book of mathematics or science and then flick through it in barely enough time to see each page. It then easily with full accuracy can recall every single page letter for letter if it wanted to. The only thing quantity would do is perhaps tire the individual, there wouldn’t be a worse performance with more information if they had a photographic memory. This is unlike with all other forms of memory.

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Yeah, memory technique at the most and not much of that either. A CC is 4 groups of four digits, any bright, motivated kid could figure out some sort of system for himself to hold on to that long enough to record it. Nor would it be necessary to memorize every CC number that came his way, if he just captured a few every every day that still buys a lot of handbags.

Possibly might have been a woman? In these enlightened times we try not to impose stereotypes.


The article quotes the person as “he”.

I figure the term “photographic memory” is used because that’s what he told the police when asked how he memorized the CC numbers.

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I am very skeptical of that kind of ability. As we know from computer experience, a high res image is an enormous memory load. And to be able to return to it and read off previously uninterpreted information means it has to be stored as nearly raw data, in pixel form as you point out, it can’t be simplified down to simple text or diagrams.

Most of all, it seems to have no connection with how we actually see. We don’t take snap shots like a movie camera. Most of the image we imagine we see with our eyes is fabricated by the brain based on previous data. You can only see a small area in high res. To get a complete detailed image means carefully scanning the whole field of view, something we very rarely do.

It’s an interesting experiment to just stop where I am and do that, carefully scan the whole field of view. It’s astonishing how much I was just guessing at and this in my own apartment.

When I recall text, I can visualize it printed on a page. This is imagination, not memory. I am generating this image from a verbal memory. But it’s automatic often seems quite real. I can see the textbook I learned it from, I imagine I’m seeing the color and texture of the paper and font. Strangely, the text I’m thinking of is always positioned about 1/4 way down the right hand page and in Times New Roman, bold. I suspect that a much more acute version of this process is what’s really going on when people talk about photographic memories.


I agree entirely. Here are some examples:

Example 1: Maggie Thatcher image

There are 2 important features in the example:

  • The image is of a famous person (or was). That provides part of the “previous data”.

  • The real Maggie is on the LEFT. So readers in countries whose language is written left to right will see the real Maggie first. Again, that becomes “previous data”

Example 2: How many cubes?
Variations of this example are given in kid’s books of puzzles and brain teasers.

The principle is much more important than in the previous two examples. If the brain is unable to make a definite decision on one of two possibilities, the possibilities will be presented alternately. In other words, the cubes will “flip” so that sometimes you are looking at the TOP surface of the cubes, and sometimes you are looking at the underside. (BTW: I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be some people whose mental image does not flip. But I couldn’t find any link.)

For young children, there is no “previous data”. So the cubes will flip with each attitude being given the same amount time.

Adults are more likely to “see” the pile of cubes from the TOP. That’s based on experience. Pyramids are vaguely similar, but in that case only two surfaces of a block are visible - the front and top.

On the other hand, we hardly ever see cubes piled “upside down”. They would need to be fastened or glued together, because the structure is not self-supporting.

I have clear memories, as a kid, of the cubes “flipping” periodically, with an equal amount of time given to each attitude. Now, I need to force myself to see the cubes upside down. In fact, if I don’t blink, I can hold the normal attitude almost indefinitely. So my “previous knowledge” now is different from what it was when I was a kid.

Example 4. Tigers or just shadows at dusk?

At school we learnt about countries where there are dangerous, stripy animals such as tigers. With bushes and undergrowth at dusk, certain combinations of light and shadow can create an image of a dangerous animal.

The important feature (according to these reports) is that the brain will ALWAYS present the dangerous image first, and then either flip to a non-dangerous image (bushes and undergrowth) or persist.

If the image flips to non-dangerous, then in almost 100% of cases, the human can rotate her head, or move it slightly from side to side, and never succeed in re-creating the dangerous image. In the cubes example, the brain passes the buck by giving you first one image and then the other. The same will happen with a dangerous image - if the brain is unable to decide.

On the other hand, if a dangerous image is obviously incorrect, it presents that image once, then never again - however much you move your head. Duty done. I think I would prefer that. I would not bash my head against a rock just to punish my brain for sloppy misinterpretation.



It doesn’t flip for me unless I make an effort, probably because it looks like this. :slight_smile:

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I see both a honeycomb and a set of stacked cubes in 4 directions, just depends on which side I prioritize. If I look at the image as a whole I don’t see any cubes just alternating blue ,dark blue lines along with black squares making zigzags.

Does this mean I am extremely biased or that I am less biased?

Maybe he was able to look at the credit card and remember it temporarily. Even if it doesn’t meet the strict definition of a photographic memory, IMO that would be effectively be one in layman’s terms.

If a guy card remember most of a city then why can’t someone remember a card?

The bias - if any - depends on how you see the attitude of the cubes. IMHO, the normal bias for an adult would be to see the tops of the cubes, rather than the undersides. Young children would have no “previous data”, and therefore no bias.

You haven’t stated which attitude you see.

BTW: I’m using the engineering definition of “attitude”. For example, an aircraft attitude could be nose-up or nose-down, port bank or starboard bank, upside-down, and so on.


An adult who is also a QBert addict would probably need to use a pair of red hot tongs on her eyeballs (using extreme caution) to see the lower side of the cubes.



The first image I saw was a honeycomb. After this I saw the other attitudes one by one hence I meant 4 directions to imply 4 attitudes.

It’s a bit hard to say left and right with it. Regardless in the order after the honeycomb I saw left, bottom,top and then right. It kind of alternated very quickly.

Very nice examples of how much ‘interpretation’ occurs before we ‘see’ an image in our brain.

I spotted immediately that Thatcher’s features had been inverted but the difference when the image is shown top side up, the difference is startling.

I can switch the cubes around almost at will. This is probably because I am involved in perspective drawing right now and understand how lines suggest volume. Without that recent practice, I could well be stuck on one interpretation. The interesting thing about learning perspective is that it is quite difficult to get past the brain’s interpretation and see the basic image on your eyeball. You may see a highway as receding to the distance, on paper it becomes a tapered vertical stripe. It’s very hard to ‘see’ that. It’s very hard to judge scale because your brain tells you that’s a full sized truck even though the actual image is greatly reduced because of distance.

The eye has a blind spot next to the fovea. A hole in your vision, yet it’s very hard to get the brain to reveal this.

Here’s another illusion I like. The dancer can spin either way. If I look to the side of the image, I can get her to switch direction.

Spinning Dancer

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I see 6 cubes, with the black faces at the top.

If I turn my screen so that it’s upside-down, I see 7 cubes. Again, the black faces are at the top.

If I look at the screen in normal attitude, I cannot intuitively see any cubes upside down. I need to carefully concentrate on one black surface, and say to myself, “This face is black. Therefore it’s a lower face. Therefore the left face must be slightly higher and to the left. It will be coloured light blue. Therefore the right face must be slightly to the right, and coloured dark blue.”

After I isolate one cube, it becomes progressively easier to identify other cubes. But there’s absolutely no intuition. It requires supreme care and concentration - like any normal Scotsman leaving an Irish pub.