The Man Who Never Forgets

Do you sometimes wish you had a better memory? Does it drive you crazy when you’re taking a test and know that you studied the material but cant recall it? Bob Patrella has never had this problem. Bob is one of four people in the United States who has a super-autobiographical memory. He remembers almost everything. If you ask him any specific date he can tell you not only what day of the week it was and what was going on in the world, but also what he was specifically doing at any given time. Autobiographical memory is defined as “our memory for specific episodes, episodic memory, and to our conceptual, generic, and schematic knowledge of our lives, autobiographical knowledge.”

In class we discussed autobiographical memory briefly. We learned that children usually grow out of it, but Bob did not. His memories have no regard for significance as we learned is common. He can tell you the date of Nixon’s impeachment just as well as the day he first met a random friend. He also says that his memories are not photographic. This aligns with what we learned in class. As we learned, there is some sort of change at encoding in people with this ability.

Research shows that people with this superior memory have “amplified white matter tract coherence” which is believed to enhance the transfer of information among connecting neural regions. However, it is hard to tell if the brain structure is different from birth or from specific experiences. Since there are so few cases of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) it is hard to have a big enough sample size for studies. These studies are also kind of “cherry-picked.” They took brain scans of the entire brain and looked for spots where it lit up. Since these findings are not theory driven, they’re not as convincing. What exactly causes this phenomenon is still not clear.

Bob says that sometimes this ability is not a great thing. He can recall dates where he was extremely sad or depressed and cannot forget the events surrounding his negative feelings. What’s strange about HSAM is that Bob can still forget why he walked into a room or what he needed from the grocery store like everyone else. This hints that this may be a different function in the brain than autobiographical information processing. This phenomenon is still baffling to psychologists, but studies are being done and progress is being made. Hopefully in time we will be able to understand this ability more fully and maybe even be able to train our brains to remember better.

Do you think you would like to have this incredible ability or would it be more of a burden? What would the pros and cons be to you? How would this impact your life?

To see the ABC news story click here

To view current research in this area click here and here

4 thoughts on “The Man Who Never Forgets

  1. russellb

    Yes, I would love to have the memory that Bob has because I would never need to study again. Unfortunately, it probably would be a burden of me because like Bob said its not always the greatest thing as he recalls sad events and cannot forget them. I guess the pros would be acing every test, but the cons would be those that Bob has. I think it would impact my life for the better than worsen it as remembering is something we all benefit from. Great job on the post I enjoyed learning about Bob Pretrella.

  2. ktbug

    This is a very interesting post! I feel as if this would be a great tool during college for exams and such, but I would want the ability to fade once I graduate because it would cause too much burden. I also wonder if any of his memories are false memories? I read through the ABC news article a bit and also found it interesting that he was able to remember these events, coupled with some sort of sports game, just as Dr. Rett. had told us the story of how he remembers 9/11, coupled with a baseball game that had been canceled the night before.

  3. mbap

    I definitely agree that this would be useful during exam week and generally throughout life. Though, I believe that he could be susceptible to false memories. When he encodes his memories, if he remembers an event happening a different way than it did, he could mistakenly “remember” something wrong for a very long time. It would be interesting to see more research into his condition and maybe an explanation for why he is able to remember things so easily/well.

  4. elliebenning

    There are so many positives with this. Like mentioned in the comments and in the article it would be wonderful to have this for school and work purposes. But it would suck because the memories you don’t want to remember will be stuck with you and not be “repressed”. It seems to me that this is a blessing and a curse. I have to stay I would love this for finals week though.

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