Hyperthymesia/Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory
Hyperthymesia, also known as piking or hyperthymestic syndrome is a condition in which an individual possesses a superior autobiographical memory, meaning he or she can recall the vast majority of personal experiences and events of his or her life. Superior autobiographical memory is fairly a new discovered phenomenon. Individuals with hyperthymesia cannot control the flashbacks of information and memories unlike the rest of people who have good memory. The Hyperthymesia syndrome doesn’t appear to be suffering from any negative neurodevelopmental disorders. Hyperthymestic syndrome is different from other types of superior memory in the ability to remember the autobiographical events without the apparent use of mnemonic skills.
AJ (Jill Price) is reportedly the first documented case of hyperthymesia or HSAM. (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). She had an exceptional ability to recall autobiographical information along with events she had read about or personally seen on the news. Interestingly, she apparently was not very good at memorizing arbitrary information. Hyperthymestic individuals appear to have poorer than average memory for arbitrary information.
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. Individuals with hyperthymesia can recall almost every day of their lives in near perfect detail, as well as public events that hold some personal significance to them. Those affected describe their memories as uncontrollable associations; when they encounter a date, they “see” a vivid epiction of that day in their heads. Recollection occurs without hesitation or conscious effort.
The condition itself has only been defined since 2006, and all 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.
S Jerome Bruner. The Mind of a Mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1987. (Retrieved on 6th July, 2016).
Berg, Tom. “Remembering every day of your life“. The Orange County Register. (April 25, 2008. Page 2. Jill Price.)