I Remember Everything

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Well, It’s certainly possible. Hyperthymestic syndrome stems from the Greek word thymesis which stands for remembering. Up to date, there are approximately 25 known cases of hyperthymestic syndrome, the ability to recall one’s personal past on any given day from a very early age. AJ, is the first known individual to possess hyperthymestic syndrome can remember everyday of her life from the age of fourteen. But just how does this work?  A analyzation of such cases were done via fMRI and found that a neural network including the left-lateralized regions, more specifically, the medial and ventrolateral prefrontal, medial and lateral temporal and retrosplenial/posterior cingulate cortices, the temporoparietal junction and the cerebellum, were activated and taken into consideration.  For the case of AJ, both the temporal lobe and the caudate nucleus were found to be enlarged. The hippocampus, located in the medial temporal lobe is responsible for short term and longer term memory, as well as spatial memory. The hippocampus is also a part of the limbic system, otherwise known as the region responsible for our emotion, including arousal, fear, aggression, happiness, and anger.  Something interesting to think about is the theory that we tend to remember events that are emotionally salient. It can be assumed that perhaps the neural processes involved in that process, for those with hyperthymesia, are being wired and connected differently. The caudate nucleus is also known for its role in memory and learning, so and increase in size might give light as to how individuals like AJ come to possess this automatic accurate memory for autobiographical events. Psychologically, researcher posit that both semantic (basic knowledge for familiar people, objects, locations) and episodic (memories for events) memory processes overlap and work together to allow the individual to remember details vividly and accurately.

So, what if you could remember everything? It seems like syndrome that at first glance, many would envy. However, if you really thought about it, imagine how haunting this would could be? AJ described it as “ruling her life…and a burden.” Claiming that whenever she thinks of one thing, her mind races to another and so and so forth. Remembering everything you learned from the first two years of medical school would be nice, but remembering all your bad days and your worst thoughts just might not be worth it. Our ability to forget, we often forget, should be considered a blessing in disguise.

Svobodaa, E., McKinnona, M., and Levine B. (2006) The functional neuroanatomy of autobiographical memory:A meta-analysis. Journal of Neuropsychologia, 44, 2189-2208.

Parker E., Cahill, L., and McGaugh, J. (2006) A case of unusual autobiographical remembering. Journal of Neuroscase, 12, 35-49. 

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