Why Do I Remember Everything? (Hyperthymesia Explained!)
If you can remember every little detail about things that happened in your life, you may have something called Hyperthymesia. This condition causes you to recall several decades. Only a few people have it, and they have reported the ability to remember an abnormally large number of previous events.
Scientists have not fully understood Hyperthymesia as it is a rare condition. However, studies are ongoing, and researchers are always trying to understand how our brains process memories.
In this post, we’ll discuss Hyperthymesia and how it helps you remember everything that happens in your life.
Let’s get to it!
What is hyperthymesia?
Also referred to as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), Hyperthymesia is a very rare condition that causes people to recall an abnormally large amount of details about the happenings in their life. As of 2021, only about 60 people have been diagnosed with Hyperthymesia worldwide.
People with this condition can remember details such as exact dates and a vast number of intricate details about past experiences. Studies show that this ability is autobiographical, meaning that a person who has it will only remember personal details and previous life experiences.
HSAM first came to light in the early 2000s when a woman named Jill Price reported that she could remember every day of her life since age 12. She wrote this in her email to the neuroscientist and memory researcher Jim McGaugh who invited her to his lab for testing.
You can retain information as short-term or long-term memories. People with Hyperthymesia often process short-term memories like everyone else. But studies show that such individuals process long-term memory better.
It is worth knowing that Hyperthymesia is different from having a good memory. Someone with HSAM won’t require mnemonic devices to recall long strings of information.
Signs of Hyperthymesia
The few people who have been diagnosed with Hyperthymesia come from different ages, walks of life, and levels of intelligence.
Here are a few common traits they present:
- They can concentrate deeply even amidst distractions. These individuals can block out any distractions in the environment around them.
- They often spend too much time thinking about past events.
- Their memories distract them, and they easily lose focus on the happenings around them. They often find themselves daydreaming and fantasizing.
- Many people with Hyperthymesia have well-organized and cataloged collections, which may evolve into compulsive behavior.
What causes hyperthymesia?
Scientists have not been able to fully understand what causes Hyperthymesia. However, this condition could be biological, genetic, or psychological. Research suggests that people with HSAM have parts of their brain structure that are different from people with typical memory functions.
But there isn’t enough evidence to prove that these differences resulted from Hyperthymesia. It could be due to greater use of parts of the brain associated with memory. Only a few people have been diagnosed with HSAM worldwide, and scientists have still not figured out exactly how it works.
Some researchers believe that people with the condition have variations in the structure of their brains. On the other hand, there are scientists who argue that Hyperthymesia might have behavioral components. The condition isn’t easy to study because only a few people have it.
Here are a few theories about the causes of HSAM.
There is some evidence that HSAM may have a genetic cause. The brain structure is different in people with superior autobiographical memory.
Some scientists believe that Hyperthymesia is biological. Studies suggest that people with this condition may have hyperactivity in some areas of their brain, such as the amygdala. Also, some researchers believe that people with Hyperthymesia have increased activity in different areas of the brain, including the inferior and superior parietal lobes.
Another theory suggests that HSAM may have psychological causes. That’s because people with this condition obsessively think about things that happened in the past. When you frequently think about previous events, it strengthens your ability to recall them.
Thus, people with HSAM can preserve their memories.
Scientists use several methods, such as electroencephalograms and MRIs, to study and diagnose people with HSAM. The purpose of these brain imaging tests is to measure memory. One of the most common tests used is the autobiographical memory test.
This cued recall test requires participants to receive positive and negative cue words that prompt a memory. Once done, they will write down the emotional and contextual details that come to mind, count, and score them.
In a different version of this test, participants can skip the cues. They will receive minimal instructions. However, they will also write down the emotional and contextual details that come to mind, count, and score them. People diagnosed with HSAM work with their doctors to develop a management plan.
Hyperthymesia does not come with any complications or physical side effects. But absorbing and storing so much information can be mentally exhausting. Doctors can provide you with tips and answer any questions you may have.
How does the brain of a hyperthymesiac work?
People with Hyperthymesia process short-term memories like everyone else. But the detail and accuracy of memories improve with time, thanks to their condition. They can recall intricate details of events that happened several years ago.
The human brain stores experiences as short-term memory. Memories such as the shirt you wore yesterday are easy to recall but fade away rapidly. For most people, only meaningful experiences get stored indefinitely as long-term memory.
For example, you’re likely to recall where you had your first kiss or where your marriage proposal happened. Short-term memory isn’t stored in the same part of the brain as long-term memory.
What is it like to live with hyperthymesia?
Jill Price can remember the day of the week and everything she did on almost any day of the last three decades of her life. Price experiences continuous, automatic playback of events whether she likes it or not. She told researchers that her superior memory skills were not helpful in school.
One of her biggest challenges in school was rote memorization. According to Price, her memory doesn’t work that way. She studies hard to pass her examinations.
HSAM is not only about recalling the happenings in your life, but it also involves recalling exactly when they happened. Someone with Hyperthymesia may be able to label the day of the week on which any calendar date fell. For example, HK, a 20-year-old hyperthymesiac, can remember that February 3, 2009, is a Tuesday.
He can also recall intricate details like the weather conditions on that day and what he did when he woke up and before going to bed. When a researcher asked how he could do this, HK said, “They just come into my mind. I can just picture it as if I was there again especially when anniversaries come around. That day of the anniversary, I just think back to what I was doing, what the weather was like, who I was with, and so-and-so. I just remember it.”
Disadvantages of having hyperthymesia
Having perfect memory doesn’t only yield upsides. Some disadvantages include sleep deprivation, inability to live in the present, and depression. People with this condition can vividly remember bad memories, making them susceptible to depression.
HSAM causes you to overthink. Most overthinkers find it hard to fall asleep at night. Those with Hyperthymesia are usually not the happiest folks around.
Not being able to forget and focus on more important things selectively is a problem. Humans can subconsciously remember more positive memories and dilute the effects of harmful or unwanted memories.
This is not valid for people with Hyperthymesia, as they can’t forget negative memories. People with Hyperthymesia often find it hard to live in the present and are prone to depression.
Living with Hyperthymesia has both upsides and downsides. Many benefits come with superior long-term memory, but it can also cause sleep deprivation, depression, and more.
Highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) is a rare condition that causes you to remember previous events in great detail. The cause of this condition is unknown, but researchers have come up with a few theories. Hyperthymesia may have a genetic, biological, or psychological cause.
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