Marathon Memory

What significant event happened on October 17th 1989?

Well, If you’re a San Franciscan you might say a 7.1 earthquake in the Oakland-S.F. area, which is the correct answer.

What if someone asked you what happened in your life on August 12th 1978?  Could you remember?

Now take that a step further, what if it was something as simple as you bought a new pair of shoes that you wore 2 months later to a friend’s birthday party.

This may sound extreme but believe it or not some people including actress Marilu Henner can actually remember every day of their life.  60 minutes has reported that new research is tackling the idea that human “superior autobiographical subjects” have the capability to remember every event in their life starting from an early age.

Dr. James McGaugh, a professor of neurobiology at the University of California Irvine, and a renowned expert on memory, is the first to discover and study Hyperthymesia.  He says that this type of memory is new to science.  McGaugh and his research team have had to devise their own tests, like the one on public events.

They are also using MRI scans of the subjects to see if they can find obvious differences in the structure of the brains of “superior autobiographical subjects” and normal subjects.  The evidence is pointing to the fact that McGaugh’s subjects have a larger temporal lobe.  The temporal lobe is the part of the brain neurobiologists think has to do with storing new memories.

The researchers are also pursuing other avenues for answers to this fascinating ability such as DNA testing (genetic differences) and handedness testing, since all three men in the subject pool are left handed.

When researcher and neuroscientist Dr. Larry Cahill was asked what percentage of the time his five (six, at the time of this article,  including Henner) “superior autobiographical subject” were correct he said, “I would say over 99% of the time, if not 100 percent of the time, if they tell you something and you can check it, they’re right.  I’ve almost given up looking now, because ok, they’re right,” he replied.

Cahill goes on to state that he does not see these subjects as savants or autistic variants, he purports, “They’re not people who have an extraordinary ability, but can’t tie their shoe… [there is] this remarkable ability in a person who is otherwise pretty darn normal.”

The study’s applications of such abilities are quite extraordinary.  Perhaps, this type of research could benefit Alzheimer patients as well as other memory disorders.

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