Are Your Photos Memorable? This Algorithm Will Tell You

By Carl Engelking | December 29, 2015 2:25 pm

An odd, but not all that memorable photo, according to MIT researchers’ deep-learning algorithm that rates a photo’s memorability. (Credit: AnastasiaNess/Shutterstock (photo), scored via LaMem Dataset)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean it’s memorable.

So what exactly makes one image more memorable than another? Researchers at MIT drew on the collective knowledge of the masses to identify memorable photos, and they’ve incorporated their findings into an algorithm that predicts a photo’s memorability as accurately as humans.

Based on their findings, a “selfie” snapped by the beach is far more memorable than a photo capturing the majesty of Yosemite’s Half Dome.


(Credit: LaMem Dataset)


To build their algorithm, researchers relied on the crowdsourcing muscle of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Human participants viewed a series of 35 to 150 images and were told to identify the photo that was repeated in a given set. Correctly identified duplicates were deemed more memorable.

Researchers used results from human trials to assign memorability scores to 60,000 images, and then fed them into their algorithm. They borrowed their computing technique from a field of artificial intelligence called deep-learning, which allows computers to utilize artificial neural networks to analyze mountains of data and discover patterns all on their own. It’s how Facebook recognizes your friends’ smiles in photos and suggests you tag them.

As a demonstration of their algorithm’s prowess, researchers told it to predict how memorable a group of people would find a never-before-seen image. The algorithm predicted its memorability score within a few percentage points of humans. The computer, in other words, simulated the capabilities of human visual memory. The published their findings in a paper that’s available on the LaMem Dataset website. You can also put researchers’ algorithm to the test online and upload photos from your collection to see if you’re a memory-making photographer.

Remember Me

As the algorithm does its work, it builds a heat map over images to highlight the more memorable or forgettable elements of each photo. Memorable images tended to have specific focal points — a face or an object — and were often counterintuitive or just plain odd. A tentacle-like couch, a snowboarder in a sumo wrestling outfit and a man with an orange juice mustache ranked among the highest in memorability.


The most memorable images from researchers’ collection. (Credit: LaMem Dataset)

Landscapes, cityscapes and photos of your house were most forgettable. Interestingly, images of angry and fearful faces were far more memorable than pictures of awe or contentment, which gels with past research that indicates our brains evolved to remember negative stimuli for self-preservation. Remembering the colors of a deadly snake, for example, is far more important than remembering a scenic view during a hike.


The most forgettable images in researchers’ dataset. (Credit: LaMem Dataset)

The algorithm isn’t perfect, however. Some images seared into our collective consciousness aren’t all that memorable based on the algorithm’s correlations. Although the model is good at catching memorable visual elements, it can’t grasp the historical context that makes some images iconic.


(Credit: Screenshot via LaMem Databset)

Sure, there are some wrinkles, but researchers are already planning to spin their model off into an app that subtlety tweaks images to make them more memorable — a potential plus for advertisers. Their findings could also help enhance visual materials in the classroom to help students remember their lessons.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers
  • Uncle Al

    Distortions of human behavior and expectations are memorable, correlation with red to pink. Surrealist Salvidore Dali is memorable, “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade is forgettable. Given that metric, the most memorable graphic human experience is pornography – the really wonderful nasty Japanese and German stuff. Perhaps Israel with Bar Mitzvah Boys in Bondage, XVIII – Tochter Tefillin!.

    • OWilson

      In the same vein we have the masterful Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian film director who co-scripted all his own films, largely jettisoning narrative in favour of vague intonent and relentless character study. In his first film: ‘Cronaca Di Un Areore’ (1950), the couple are brought together by a shared irrational guilt. ‘L’Amico’ followed in 1955, and 1959 saw the first of Antonioni’s world-famous trilogy, ‘L’Avventura’ – an acute study of boredom, restlessness amidst the futilities and agonies of purposeless living. In ‘L’Eclisse’, three years later, this analysis of sentiments is taken up once again. ‘We do not have to know each other to love’, says the heroine, ‘and perhaps we do not have to love…’

      (But for shear surrealism check out Pier Paulo Pasolini’s “The Third Test Match”)

      • Uncle Al

        Youtube v=zX2YF4HDh74 with its memorable nudity. One would have imagined the ball toould be blue but for the blogger’s generous conveyance of focus group knowledge.

  • Null Op

    “…make them more memorable…” Like we don’t put up with enough BS from advertisers already. No good will come of this…

  • Private_Eyescream

    Ah yes, hacking psychology so it can be mass-distributed.
    Because that never backfires hilariously. Think of it this way, “if every image is memorable… Then none are.”
    The brain will determine these new “mimetic tweaked” images to be noise then reject them enmass. The irony is that this will lead to baseline rejection of the product and the tweaked images will slowly be desirable a decade or two from now. But the core problem is curiously ironic with the baseline assumption of “memorable” images… if a image is remembered with extreme clarity, then logically no human witness of it has to ever review it again and it will be ignored when witnessed again.

    This can be tactical for propaganda functions. Yet propaganda itself requires regular tweaking to remain effective unless its the Big Lie Hoaxes which are protected by legal threats if you dare question them.
    “To discover whom rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to question — Voltaire”
    At this point, from a product sales point perspective, their sales team sucks because they have no concept of Future Think and Implication Extrapolation.

    • OWilson

      A memorable post!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar