Examples of Iconic Memory

Updated October 17, 2022
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The term iconic memory refers to the short-term visual memories people store when seeing something very briefly. They create pictures in the mind. Unlike long-term memories which can be stored for a lifetime, these iconic mental images will only last for milliseconds and will fade quickly.

Everyday Iconic Memory Images

  • A deer runs across the road while a man is driving. He only sees the deer very briefly before it bounds off. The memory left in his mind of the deer leaping across the roadway is stored for a short period of time.
  • A photo loads on a man's computer, and he accidentally clicks the X at the top corner, getting rid of the picture from his screen. He is left with the iconic memory of the photo that he looked at for just a moment.
  • You look around the room, quickly surveying objects that you see on the floor, end tables, dresser, and bed, before quickly shutting your eyes. The memory of what your room looked like during your observation is an example of iconic memory.
  • One young lady is reading a book, and another one asks what the book is. As a tease, the first young lady shows the cover of the book for just a brief moment before hiding it in her lap, leaving the second young lady with only the impression, or iconic memory, of how the book's cover looked.
  • In a dark hotel room, a man turns on the light so that he can get up and go to the bathroom. As soon as he turns it on, however, the light bulb breaks and the room goes completely dark again. The memory of how the room looked just before the light bulb broke is an example of an iconic memory.
  • While watching a scary movie, all of a sudden an image flashes across the screen of a frightening girl in makeup. The audience of the movie stores the image that flashed across the screen as iconic memories.
  • You look at a picture for several seconds, and then close your eyes tightly. In your mind, you attempt to use your iconic memory to visualize the picture that you viewed only very briefly before closing your eyes.
  • A woman is on a train ride to visit her family in another part of the country. She looks out the window while passing a meadow and sees, for a split second, a fox jump up in the grass and bound through the meadow. Her mind stores the image of the fox as an iconic memory.

  • A friend shows you an image on her computer screen very briefly, and then slams the screen of the laptop down. You try to visualize what the image is - an example of the image being stored in your mind as an iconic memory.
  • Two children are playing hide and seek. One of them, hiding in a closet, hears the other walk by. She jumps out and screams, then jumps back in the closet. The image of her jumping out is now an iconic memory in the mind of the other child.

Short-Term Memories

Now you have seen examples of the situations that can result in an iconic memory. The next time you form an iconic memory, you will know exactly what it is and you can give it a label.