Which Of These Conditions Allow People To Recall Their Entire Lives With Near-Perfect Detail?
If you were asked to recall your earliest memory, you might recollect a few memories from your very earliest years. If asked to recall memories from elementary school, you might recall key highlights of the various grades–your second grade teacher’s name, what you wore for picture day one year, what your elementary school looked like, as well as a mishmash of memories from your early life.
On the other hand, if you had the neurological condition known as hyperthymesia, you would likely be able to walk us through the majority of your elementary school experiences including details that the rest of us would have long forgotten—what score you got on the fourth spelling test of the first semester of your third grade year, what you had for lunch the day before spring break in fourth grade, what you wore the day after picture day in fifth grade, and so on.
People with hyperthymesia possess an extremely detailed autobiographical memory that allows them to recall an abnormally vast and detailed number of life experiences in a way that surpasses even the sharpest recollection of your average person. While the rest of us remember, well, the memorable things, people with hyperthymesia can recall a significant amount of their lives with an incredible level of detail.
Additionally, what is particularly curious about individuals with hyperthymesia is that it is not a learned or acquired state of being. Unlike other individuals who study rigorously or use memory tricks to retain and recall large amounts of information, hyperthymestics involuntarily retain and recall enormous amounts of information about their personal lives.
In fact, rather ironically, many hyperthymestics are actually terrible at memorizing arbitrary data (like what you might have to memorize while studying for a test or to perform the kind of memory feats some people work to hone) and once they venture outside the realm of retaining autobiographical information, they are worse off at recollection than your average person.
Because of the extreme rarity of people possessing this condition, there is very little research data on it. Instead, there are only largely untested theories as to the mechanisms of action and how some individuals are able to retain such vast pools of autobiographical information.