Written by – Abhishek Kumar, Fifth Year, Integrated MSc, NISER-Bhubaneswar
HSAM (Highly Superio Autobiographical Memory) also called as hyperthymesia means excessive remembering. People with HSAM remember every moment of their lives in exquisite detail. They remember everything about each day of their lives, even how they felt to various incidents on that day. Additionally, people with HSAM cannot forget. This ability is extremely rare and affects only around 60 people worldwide.
Most of the people with hyperthymesia show obsessive behaviours like collecting and organizing things. Researchers also found neuro-physical differences between HSAM subjects and other people with average temporal cortices that transmit information and is also involved in episodic memory retention; parahippocampal gyrus – which is engaged in the recollection of emotional memories. However, having larger brain structures cannot be the sole cause of the increase in memory.
“Peculiar mixture of forgetting with our remembering is the very keel on which our mental ship is built. If we remembered everything we should on most occasions be as ill off as if we remembered nothing.” – William James, Founder of modern psychology
Some other studies have shown that repeated use of some part of the brain can cause physiological changes in brain. For example, a study found out that London taxi drivers have higher grey matter in brain. memories. HSAM subjects exhibited structural differences in areas of the brain responsible for memory creation: uncinated fascicle – it bridges frontal and HSAM was brought into the limelight by Jill Price in 2006. She wrote a book named the woman who can’t forget. It was first published in a pseudonym “AJ”. She claims to remember everything from 1974. Dr James McGaugh established HSAM formally, he performed numerous memory tests to determine the scope of Jill’s memory. However, not all the memories of HSAM subjects are correct they too are susceptible to false memories. Memories retained also varies between different individuals with HSAM. Most of them retain memories which have some or other emotional value. Scientists still do not have any clues about the HSAM memory works. Understanding HSAM could help us understand different aspects of how the brain works and answer some other important questions – “What happens to the memories that we forget? Is forgetting a retrieval problem or retention and storage problem? “
Total recall: the people who never forget ‘An extremely rare condition may transform our understanding of memory.’ by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, The Guardian, 8 Feb