REMEMBERING ALL THINGS PAST

This article analyses the article, “Remembering all things past” that appeared on the American Scientific American in 2004. The article discusses condition known as highly superior autographical memory (HSAM). The authors of the article discovered the condition when one lady, Jill Price, who reports that she can recall all events that happened she was 11 years old as if they happened yesterday. This came as a surprise to her and they decided to test her by asking her what happened on certain dates. On testing her, she came out as one person who had HSAM. When they aired her on national radio, other people who thought they had the same type of memory came out. In just a few days, they got more and found that some people who thought they had super memory actually performed worse the control population that was planted among them. This, to them, implied that not all those who thought they had HSAM actually had it.

On further analysis of those people who had HSAM outperformed the controls by a big margin of 87% on memory questions. Those who did not have HSAM on the other had only scored 8%. The 11 subjects were conclusively said to have HSAM. Further tests showed that the HSAM group performed well in tests that required them to associate names to faces and dates and another on recall of visual objects. They also showed that the subjects had repulsion to handling objects that contained germs and also had compulsive behaviour of hoarding objects they thought held memorable attachments to them.

Magnetic imaging scans on the brains of the subjects also showed a big difference in size and shapes of certain regions of their brains. They also showed higher efficiency in the transmission of information between regions of the brain.

Research has shown that the regions that are different among subjects of HSAM are involved in recalling life events. One such discovery showed that the uncinate fascicle appeared to be better connected among subjects than among the control group. The study also showed that injury to this fibre tract impaired autobiographical memory. These observations were however not able to determine whether the differences were as a result of using their ability or caused the ability.

Certain things are however certainly clear. First, subjects have a higher ability to retain memories in their minds for extended periods of time. Second, their ability was not a learnt ability and was not in any way similar to that of mnemonic experts who use tricks to memorise a series of digits within a short while. Indeed, the group did not have similar abilities.

The HSAM group showed that they had an ability to remember events that made no impact to their lives including the weather on certain dates. These were not events they could have spent time memorizing. The ability was therefore found to be an ability that was obtained without any exertion or learning. The subjects also had little or no interest in learning what happened before their births.

The memory that is referred to in the article is episodic or the autographical memory. The subjects are able to remember situations that happened in their lives over a long period of time. Exposure to certain information is all that is required to them. The subjects do not require training to have this form of memory. It is however rare and most people do not have this particular ability.

In conclusion, the article studies a group of individuals who have a strong ability to remember events that they came upon in their lives. This ability cannot be learned and is probably related to the way their brains are wired.

References

McCaughey, J. L., & LePort, A. (2014). Remembrance of All Things Past. Scientific American, 310(2), 40-45.

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