scientists have discovered intriguing differences in the brains of
an extraordinary group of people who can effortlessly recall every
moment of their lives from 10 years onwards.
The phenomenon of highly superior 'autobiographical' memory has
been profiled on CBS's "60 Minutes" and in hundreds of other media
outlets. It was first documented in 2006 by University of
California - Irvine (UCI) neurobiologist James McGaugh, who also
co-authored the current study, and colleagues.
But a new study offers the first scientific findings in a group of
people with this uncanny ability, the journal Neurobiology of
Learning & Memory reports.
Surprisingly, the people with stellar autobiographical memory did
not score higher on routine lab memory tests or when asked to use
rote memory aids. Yet when it came to public or private events
that occurred after age 10, "they were remarkably better at
recalling the details of their lives," said McGaugh, senior study
author, according to a California statement.
"These are not memory experts across the board. They're 180
degrees different from the usual memory champions who can memorise
pi to a large degree or other long strings of numbers," said
Aurora LePort, doctoral candidate at UCI Centre for the
Neurobiology of Learning & Memory, who led the study.
"It makes the project that much more interesting; it really shows
we are homing in on a specific form of memory."
LePort said interviewing the subjects was "baffling. You give them
a date, and their response is immediate. The day of the week just
comes out of their minds; they don't even think about it. They can
do this for so many dates, and they're 99 percent accurate. It
never gets old."
The study also found statistically significant evidence of
obsessive-compulsive tendencies among the group, but the authors
do not yet know if or how this aids recollection.
Many of the individuals have large, minutely catalogued
collections of some sort, such as magazines, videos, shoes, stamps
UCI researchers and staff have assessed more than 500 people who
thought they might possess highly superior autobiographical memory
and have confirmed 33 to date. Another 37 are strong candidates
who will be further tested.
"The next step is that we want to understand the mechanisms behind
the memory," LePort said. "Is it just the brain and the way its
different structures are communicating? Maybe it's genetic; maybe
McGaugh added: "We're Sherlock Holmeses here. We're searching for
clues in a very new area of research."