Superior autobiographical memory

| December 3, 2011 | 3 Replies

A friend of mine who I have known since high school has often quoted actual dates on which events occurred a long time ago. Much of the time, I haven’t had a way to disprove him, but on several occasions I was able to confirm that he had stunning recall. After watching the following video from a 60 Minutes show, I emailed Mike, urging him to take a look.

The people featured in this 60 Minutes two-part video easily remember non-emotional ordinary events from throughout their lives down to the actual dates on which those events occurred.  If you’re like me, you’ll be somewhat suspicious of the idea that people can remember long-ago events of their lives so well. If so, watch the video–it will leave you shaking your head unless you have this ability yourself.

This extreme memory is a stunning phenomena.  Check out the researcher’s statement at about the 10-minute mark of the video that these folks are correct 99% of the time that they offer these detailed responses.    Until watching this show, however, I had assumed that the ability to forget would be essential to good mental health.  Based on the appearance of the superior memory subjects, that doesn’t appear to be true (though most of the subjects are not involved in long-term romantic relationships).   These subjects have amazing recall without having any struggle with “cluttered” minds.

I definitely don’t have “superior autobiographical memory.”  I don’t need all of superior autobiographical capability, but I wish I had somewhat better recollection.

James McGaugh, Ph.D.- University of California at Irvine, has studied these ultra-memory folks and will be discussing his findings at a Psychology Colloquium on Monday, December 5, 4:00 PM, Wilson 214 at Washington University.   McGaugh’s team has found (video, Part II at the 2 minute mark) that people with superior autobiographical memory had larger (almost twice as large as expected) temporal lobes and caudate nuclei (the latter of which has been associated with OCD).   See Video II at the 3-minute mark for more on the OCD angle.

Here’s more on this fascinating topic.

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Category: Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Toby Traylor says:

    I’ve thought that forgetting was key to healing and good mental heath like you say as well. Though its probably more key that the emotional pain is what recedes. I’d imagine these people don’t break down into tears every day because though they remember every details. They aren’t constantly recalling it. Just because you can remember something doesn’t mean it has to be on your mind. I guess that’s what i’m trying to say there.

  2. My son has this kind of memory about dates, and he can tell you what day of the week it was as well. In fact, if you ask him what day of the week a given date fell on, he usually gets that right as long as it was within his lifetime. However, he does suffer from some mental health issues. I have a strong memory for dates, but nothing like his. I think you’re right about being able to forget as a requirement for mental health. But some of us forget some things, and others forget other things.

  3. Walter Jones says:

    I actually noticed I had a superior memory when I was in my early 20s after my divorce. I can remember what clothes people were wearing the last time i seen them even 35 yrs ago. What trees were in the yrd and so on.Its almost like a built in vcr of my intire life. I schock people all the time with my abillity to remember the smallest things. You dont want to lie to me because I will catch you 20 yrs later when you say something that had something to do with that lie. Woman hate me for that so usally I just dont say anything but they think they get away with it. HA. It is strange but I have a lot of fun with it and I am a great historian but I wish I could make a liveing from it. My mind does go constantly and sometimes wears me out but it is what it is. And it is real.If you have it you know what I am talking about.

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