If you had the ability to remember everything you’ve ever done, heard, or seen, would you want it? Do the advantages outweigh the potential risks to having such an ability? When thinking academically, would it be a wonderfully resourceful tool to have in order to guarantee yourself good grades? However, everyone has moments they wish to forget, wish to put behind them without ever contemplating it again. It seems normal for one to believe that having a perfectly intact memory isn’t possible, but a condition known as hyperthymesia goes against this idea.
Hyperthymesia is a neurological condition (first described by researchers from the University of California) where a person is able to remember pinpoint specific details, such as, where they were on August 12th, 2002, along with what they were wearing and what they did, what current events were happening on the given date, and the specific day of the week it was (which, in my mind, appears to be what makes the condition believable). This condition also goes by the names of the Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and Hyperthymesia Syndrome due to the fact that the handful of people capable of this ability are only able to remember things pertaining to their own life. So far there are only 20 known people who have been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, and it is assumed that 23 year old Aurelien Hayman is the only person in Great Britain to have been born with the extraordinary condition.
Hayman had told interviewers that there’s no special technique to recalling his past with such specificity; it’s all done subconsciously. Unlike the average human who uses retrieval from the long-term memory, which is in the right frontal lobe of the brain, it has been said that Hayman uses the right frontal lobe along with the left frontal lobe (the part of the brain in charge of language) and the occipital lobe in the back of the brain (the part of the brain in charge of storing pictures). Because of this, he is able to have an increased capacity for stored information. According to Hayman, “it’s a very visual process, there’s a sequence of images” that just seem assigned to certain dates. However, Hayman did acknowledge the fact that it is an autobiographical memory, and that it doesn’t seem to give him any advantages in schooling.
So what separates people with what appears to be exceptional memory from those with hyperthymesia? The latter do not use any tactical approaches to recalling certain details, which can be seen through Hayman. Whereas, people with just exceptional memory use tools like mnemonics to recall past events. Mnemonics are devices such as patterns of ideas, letters, or associations that aid in memory recall. It has been said that the amygdala (part in the brain that experiences emotions) is a crucial role to those with HSAM due to the fact that these individuals are evoking incidents from their past rather than using mnemonics. The Californian neurologists from the University of California explained that they believed “hyperthymestic individuals” to be able to involuntarily make associations with any date through visualizing dramatic effects of events. However, there is speculation over whether or not this is true.
So would being able to have a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory be intriguing to you? If so, maybe it’s worth noting that another individual with the condition, by the name of AJ, explained that it’s like having a bunch of memories constantly filling up your head. AJ struggles with her condition so much that she claimed that it’s hard for her to focus on the present and the future since her mind is so conscious of her past. After considering this thought, it made me realize that I would hate the possibility of my brain fighting against me being involved in the present on a daily basis. There’s also the fact that I would be able to remember events that I would possibly want to forget. This being said, I’m intrigued to know if people who are capable of blocking traumatic events could ever be diagnosed with Hyperthymesia, or if hyperthymestic individuals (unlike AJ) are at all capable of blocking events from their mind.
When we learned about this phenomenon in class, I thought having this condition would be of great use for me; especially because my current situation consists of constantly needing to study and be prepared for exams and lectures every single day. Even right now, as I am studying for a midterm that I must take tomorrow, it sounds very appealing.
However, I would have to say that I do agree with you! Although I assume that everyone with this condition has different struggles with their memories, I can imagine that never being about to forget anything could be very painful. I’ve learned in my past psych classes that we try to justify our actions; so much that we tend to change our memories into ones that will make us feel better about ourselves. This can range from situations where we have told a lie and we try to tell ourselves that it was okay that we told that lie; or when we accidentally littered and didn’t bother picking up our trash because we “didn’t have time”. Obviously, justifying our actions can pertain to situations bigger than those I just listed above as well. The inability to justify our actions would cause alot of pain, guilt, and regret.
SO, yes, I do think that the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits! Thanks for the post.