What makes an image memorable?

According to research by Aude Oliva, Phillip Isola, Aditya Khosla and Wilma Bainbridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, people across a diverse population, despite their various experiences, tend to remember and forget the same images. On the whole, they found that images of people or central objects are the most memorable, whereas landscapes are among the most forgettable.

“Using experimental data detailing the types of images people remember or quickly forget, we developed an algorithm that automatically predicts whether an image will be memorable. The algorithm correctly identified images with people as most memorable, indoor scenes and large objects as slightly less memorable, and outdoor landscapes as the least memorable. We also found that atypicality and aesthetic beauty attributes did not explain much of the variation we observed in scene memorability. For instance, landscapes—despite being beautiful—were often forgotten, whereas generic photos of social scenes—for example, a dinner party, subway car, office—were almost always remembered.”

This information can help teachers to use images effectively. For example, selection of memorable diagrams, cartoons and images to illustrate concepts will make learning easier, particularly when students need to remember important information.

Photographer, David Peterson says “There are a few factors that can almost guarantee a memorable photo, and they all boil down to one thing: emotion. Which is probably why it is so tough to create a memorable landscape photo; while landscapes can certainly evoke feelings of peace and awe, they don’t often have that same raw, intense emotion that a photo of a person can have.”

He cites Raising the flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry and Lunch Atop a Skyscraper by Charles C. Ebbets as memorable images, and asks “can you put your finger on what it is that makes them so unforgettable?”

Joe Rosenthal: Raising the flag on Iwo Jima, 1945

Joe Rosenthal: Raising the flag on Iwo Jima, 1945

Steve McCurry-Afghan Girl-1984

Steve McCurry: Afghan Girl, 1984

Lunch atop a skyscraper, c1932

Lunch atop a skyscraper, c1932

Here’s some images (and photographers) I find memorable:

Max Dupain: Sunbather, 1935

Max Dupain: Sunbather, 1935

Eve Arnold: Marilyn Monroe, 1955

Eve Arnold: Marilyn Monroe, 1955

Henri Cartier-Bresson: gare

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Paris, 1930’s

Annie Leibovitz: John and Yoko

Annie Leibovitz: John and Yoko

and as for painters, many of Matisse’s works are memorable for me.

Henri Matisse: Dance, 1910

Henri Matisse: Dance, 1910