Hyperthymesia

Hyperthymesia

Hyperthymesia or hyperthymestic syndrome is a condition where the affected individual has a superior autobiographical memory. As first described in the Neurocase article "A case of unusual autobiographical remembering," the two defining characteristics of hyperthymesia are "1) the person spends an abnormally large amount of time thinking about his or her personal past, and 2) the person has an extraordinary capacity to recall specific events from their personal past".

Capabilities

Individuals with hyperthymesia are able to recall events they have personally experienced. A hyperthymestic person can be asked a date, and describe the events that occurred that day, what the weather was like, and many seemingly trivial details that most people would not be able to recall. They often can recall what day of the week the date fell on, but are not calendrical calculators as people with autism sometimes are; the recall is limited to days on a personal "mental calendar". The mental calendar association occurs automatically and obsessively. Unlike some other individuals with superior memory, hyperthymestic individuals do not rely on practiced mnemonic strategies.

Cases

Three cases of hyperthymesia have been confirmed. Researchers from University of California, Irvine, Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill and James McGaugh have studied the condition in a woman identified only by initials "AJ" (who revealed her identity as Jill Price, of Los Angeles, in a book published May 9, 2008 ), whose memory they characterize as "nonstop, uncontrollable, and automatic". AJ became aware of her detailed memory in 1978, when she was 12, and from 1980 on she apparently can recall every day.

After the study was published in 2006 in journal Neurocase, more people came forward claiming that they had this ability. So far two other cases are considered to be genuine: a Wisconsin man named Brad Williams, and Rick Baron of Ohio.

A similar condition was documented by the Russian psychologist Aleksandr Luria whose book, The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About A Vast Memory, documented the case of a young Russian man by the name of Shereshevskii who could forget only by an act of will. Shereshevskii, AKA 'S.' in the classic style of case studies, reportedly had trouble analysing his memories and making sense of their content in retrospect. This does not apparently plague Jill Price and her cohort, though the basic inability to engage in what is commonly called 'ordinary forgetting'--whereby experiences or propositions that are not recalled or connected to other events fail to be stored in long-term memory even though they were initially encoded--is clearly held in common. Solomon Shereshevskii was also famous as an interesting case of synaesthesia. He had a number of different types of synaesthesia. Luria's work was influential for a number of psychologists and theorists in memory, most famously Oliver Sacks.

See also

References

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