hyperthymesia

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April 24, 2012:
Marilu Henner releases new book.

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The TV series Unforgettable is based on this condition.

What is hyperthymesia and who has it?

Amazing memory skills available to a select few.

Hyperthymesia, or Superior Autobiographical Memory, has become more prominently known thanks to a TV series (Unforgettable) and the publicity surrounding Marilu Henner, who is one of only 12 known people in the world who are able to remember their lives on a day-by-day basis. People with hyperthymesia are able to remember the events of any given calendar date, usually back to puberty, with stunning and accurate detail. They can compare similar dates, or catalog days where the weather was rainy or they were in a certain place. Superior Autobiographical Memory makes it possible for individuals to use their minds like databases, remembering unusual details such as the clothes they wore, whom they may have met that day,and what they ate for lunch, even decades after the original event. A 60 minutes report on hyperthymesia with Leslie Stahl also indicated that people with this talent have a difficult time with relationships, which may be a side effect of always being correct about details, conversations, and things that happened. This may make it hard to argue with someone with Superior Autobiographical Memory, or (alternatively) it may be difficult to lie to someone who can analyze everything you have done on a day-by-day basis and figure out any holes in your story.

Some of the defining characteristics of hyperthymesia include the ability to “see” depictions of days in their heads with no conscious effort and recollect events that hold personal significance. It is distinguished from other forms of exceptional memory in that it does not involve any form or practice or mnemonic tricks to store information. Studies have shown that hyperthymestics are not like autistic savants but they do exhibit an interest in dates, which they use extensively to categorize when a particular event in their lives happened.


The condition itself has only been defined since 2006, and all of the men who are hyperthymesic are left-handed, which could be a coincidence or an indicator of the condition.  There are said to be some detrimental effects on thinking capacity since a stream of memories may be disruptive to an average day’s activity, and although people may be able to associate events with dates they do not have photographic memories and may still have difficulty memorizing common information.


Some theories about how hyperthymestic memories are encoded lead researchers to believe that semantic cues are used to retrieve information, but a larger group of people with hyperthymesia will need to be discovered in order to create a better scientific model of how memories are stored and played back.

Notes and Special Information

Special note: There are many kinds of superior memory available to people, but usually those with the best memory talents may be born with them, although there are people who developed great memorization over time, which enabled them to learn languages and skills.