In the course of a day, there are many times when you need to keep some piece of information in your head for just a few seconds. Maybe it is a number that you are “carrying over” to do a subtraction, or a persuasive argument that you are going to make as soon as the other person finishes talking. Either way, you are using your short-term memory.
This ability to hold on to a piece of information temporarily in order to complete a task is specifically human. It causes certain regions of the brain to become very active, in particular the pre-frontal lobe.
Information is transferred from short-term memory (also known as working memory) to long-term memory through the hippocampus, so named because its shape resembles the curved tail of a seahorse (hippokampos in Greek). The hippocampus is a very old part of the cortex, evolutionarily, and is located in the inner fold of the temporal lobe.
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 in his or her life. The term “hyperthymesia" is derived from the Greek words "thymesis," meaning "remembering," and "hyper," meaning "excessive."
At last count, at least 33 people in the world could tell you what they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, on February 20, 1998. Or who they talked to on October 28, 1986. Pick any date and they can pull from their memory the most prosaic details of that thin slice of their personal history.
Others, no doubt, have this remarkable ability, but so far only those 33 have been confirmed by scientific research. The most famous is probably actress Marilu Henner, who showed off her stunning recall of autobiographical minutiae on “60 Minutes” a few years ago.
What makes this condition, known as hyperthymesia, so fascinating is that it’s so selective. These are not savants who can rattle off long strings of numbers, Rainman-style, or effortlessly retrieve tidbits from a deep vault of historical facts. In fact, they generally perform no better on standard memory tests than the rest of us.
UNFORGETTABLE tells the fascinating story of BRAD WILLIAMS. Featured on 60 Minutes and dubbed "the Human Google" by Good Morning America, Brad is only the second person ever studied for HYPERTHYMESIA (also known as superior autobiographical memory), an uncanny and detailed recall of his entire life.
Do you remember what happened on June 3rd, 1986? How about April 19th, 1994? If you’re Marilu Henner you do. The actress is one of 12 people in the world who has been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, which is also known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. Basically, Henner can recall every single day of her life.