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Hyperthymesia: To Remember Every Single Moment

An in-depth look into those who have a "highly superior autobiographical memory" - simply put, they remember minute details from every past event in their lives.

What were you doing at 2pm on March 22, 2014? For most of us, it is difficult to recall what we had for breakfast yesterday, much less a moment many years ago. Whether it be forgetting to finish an assignment, misplacing a phone, or overlooking that dentist appointment on Saturday morning, we all frequently have these lapses of memory. Although we tend to remember the more prominent occasions in our lives, the insignificant details often quickly slip away from our minds. What if this wasn’t the case?

memory
memories: (image from pexels)

Those with hyperthymesia have a ” highly superior autobiographical memory” (HSAM), meaning that they have the ability to remember every minute detail that has occurred in their lifetime (2). From a young age, usually 10-15, they are able to recall everything from the clothes they wore to what the weather was like even decades later. This discovery was only recently made in 2006 by neurologists in California when they studied a patient called “AJ” (4). Since then, only a few more people have been discovered that possess this ability. Research is continually being done on these individuals to investigate neural differences that exist in those with HSAM.

However, many participants with hyperthymesia reported not being able to use their skill for school and rote memorization tasks (1). They had to work even harder in school and were not able to easily memorize facts and information for classes. Instead, they remember generally unnecessary facts from daily life. One participant even mentioned that they were not able to tell the difference between past and present when remembering a previous event. Studies show significant activity in the occipital lobe confirming that they “see” the memory as if it is happening in the present moment (3).

Despite being very handy at times, hyperthymesia can also be a burden. One downside is the inability to rid yourself of bad memories and events that have occurred. All of us have had moments that we would prefer to forget as time passes. Now take a moment to imagine having to relive those painful moments over and over again.

alone
loneliness (image from pexels)

Those with HSAM can remember each negative experience with the same raw emotions and feelings (5). The inability to forget and move on means that many find it difficult to live with the condition. This can lead to feelings of isolation amongst their family and friends. Many also have obsessive-compulsive like tendencies and were reported to have cataloged collections of items like magazines, postcards, or shoes.

Currently, research is being done to discover and investigate more people that have HSAM. Scientists and neurologists are uncovering more information that will give us insight into not only hyperthymesia but memory in general. For now, we will have to learn to live with forgetfulness; perhaps it’s occasionally a blessing in itself.

 


References

[1] LePort, Aurora K.R., et al. “Behavioral and Neuroanatomical Investigation of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM).” Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Elsevier, 28 May 2012, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1074742712000706.

[2] “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.” Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, http://www.cnlm.uci.edu/hsam/.

[3] Robson, David. “Future – The Blessing and Curse of the People Who Never Forget.” BBC News, BBC, 26 Jan. 2016, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160125-the-blessing-and-curse-of-the-people-who-never-forget.

[4] Parker, E S, et al. “A Case of Unusual Autobiographical Remembering.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2006, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16517514.

[5] Shaunacy, Ferro. “9 Facts About People Who Remember Everything About Their Lives.”Mental Floss, 17 Dec. 2015, mentalfloss.com/article/72434/9-facts-about-people-who-remember-everything-about-their-lives.

 

Hi! My name is Sindhuja Uppuluri and I'm a junior from Austin, Texas. I'm passionate about medicine, but high school has allowed me to discover the power of scientific breakthroughs as well. Being an ISEF alum, I have had the opportunity to not only expand on my own discoveries but be exposed to an ever-expanding network of young innovators and scientists. When I’m not in a lab, you can find me at a debate tournament, working on one of many clubs at my school, or drinking copious amounts of coffee. I can’t wait to use this platform to contribute exciting and informative content to you all!

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