Digg StumbleUpon LinkedIn YouTube Flickr Facebook Twitter RSS Reset

What is Hyperthymesia? The Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)


Hyperthymesia is extremely unique neurological condition in which people used to remember practically every detail of their life. They seem to recall every single event that has happened to their lives. It is curious that these people spend a large amount of time whilst reminding the past events. You may not remember as to what you were doing in the same day last week, what you ate, what you wore, whom did you meet, but people having hyperthymesia are capable to tell you precisely all these. It appears as if there is a recording device in the brain where everything has been amazingly stored. However, their memory is only limited to their own life-events which is why it is also called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) or Hyperthymesia Syndrome.

While condition of hyperthymesia enables you to remember almost anything, it leaves some harmful effects on the thinking ability. AJ is one such example as she suffers from major disruption due to the flood of memories. She is often exhausted by the uncontrollable stream of memories and for her it is simply a burden. It seems as if she gets lost in the world of remembering things. As it turns out, AJ lives in her past and never bothers too much about future or even present life.

How was Hyperthymesia first Discovered?

The first of the neurologists and researchers who described the term hyperthymesia were James McGaugh, Larry Cahill, Elizabeth Parker, and Dr. Paul Tejera of the University of California. These researchers had recognized the case of a woman (AJ) who could bring practically every event to her mind. This is almost impossible for an average person. They divided hyperthymesia into two broad classifications; i) the person who spends most of his/her time while recalling the past events, and; ii) the one who possess an exceptional ability to evoke events relating to his/her past.

The Californian researchers came out some of the most bizarre facts about hyperthymesia that is to say, the individuals possessing exceptional memory can only remember those events that bear personal importance for them. The hyperthymestic individuals are believed to have uncontrollable associations while they recall a date or event, and they visualize the dramatic reflection of that event within their minds. It is curious that these superhumans recall past memories without putting too much stress on their minds. It’s like they are not doing anything extraordinary.


In order to understand the concept of Hyperthymesia, we assume the difference between exceptional memory in which individuals employ usual tactics (such as mnemonics) to recall past events, and Hyperthymesia when individuals do not employ deliberate approaches. Hyperthymestic individuals believe to possess events that are attached to their personal life, that is not to say, it is derived through mnemonic tactics. In fact, hyperthymestic individuals automatically evoke incidents in the same way as the computer does. This is an absolute non-deliberate act.

What is Amygdala?

An almond-shaped mass of nuclei, amygdala, exists in the temporal lobe of human brain. Amygdala is fundamentally related with memory-storage involving emotional events. This limbic structure comes into play while we undergo several emotions that is to say pleasure, anger, happiness, or fear. Amgydala is primarily responsible for deciding what memory is stored in which part of the brain. Scientists believe that this decision relies on the extent to which an event arouses emotional response.

Does Amygdala play a Significant Role in Autobiographical Memory (AM)?

It is reasonable to assume that Amygdala plays an imperative role in the autobiographical memory (AM) because it is associated with the AM core network. As such, evidence did suggest that it helps in encrypting stimuli that are emotionally charged. Having said that, however, latest findings have denied all these circumstantial evidences and argue that it is nothing but a mere speculation.

Hyperthymestic Individuals examined in the University of California, Irvine

Eleven individuals are thought to have Hyperthymesia and the latest findings are based on these individuals. All these HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) participants were recognized on the basis of screening tests which they underwent. They were not only examined for events that were publicly known but were also assessed for memories which were associated with their personal being. Scientists obtained structural MRI scans of their entire brains. The upshots of the findings were remarkable; all the HSAM contributors performed better at recollecting not only public events and personal occurrences but also the dates on which these events took place. These new findings brought many new questions into the neurobiology of autobiographical memory.

In the University of California, Irvine, scientists evaluated the brain of eleven participants by assessing their brain structure as well as cognitive function. In the cognitive assessment, scientists carried out a research on the battery of memory tests with respect to their autobiographical memory. Scientists claim that they observe a significant difference in the neuroanatomy of HSAM participants as against those who employ structural MRI. The evidence suggests that the brain structure primarily rely on two things; i) change in behavior, ii) change in memory.

Different Memory Tests

  1. Names to Faces
  2. Visual Memory
  3. Forward and backward digit span
  4. Visual Reproduction
  5. Logical Memory test
  6. Verbal Paired Associates
  7. Leyton Obsessional Inventory Score-Short Form (LOI-SF)
  8. Edinburg Handedness Inventory (EHI)
  9. Becks Depression Inventory II (BDI)

4 Responses to “What is Hyperthymesia? The Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)”

  1. Leticia Romero-Gutierrez
    April 21, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    How can I find out if my son has this syndrome?

    • ryan
      May 1, 2014 at 3:15 am #

      Head to this website and check out the Q&A I posted below. Read the article first to make sure you believe he has this.


      Q: If you believe you have this type of superior memory, how should you contact UCI?
      A: Read the 2006 research paper. If your memory is similar to what is described, please send a message to ultramem@uci.edu with your telephone number so we can contact you and potentially add you to our pool of candidates to be investigated. Memory is important to understand because it is our most precious ability. If we lose our memories, we lose who we are as individuals.

  2. Karen kudelko
    May 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    I have just come across the information on HSAM. Little did I. know that this was not a universal fact of the way in which all peoples memories work. Perhaps I have HSAM. There are very few parts of my life that I cannot recall, with not only the memory, but also colors and smells from that memory. I would really like to put this gift to good use.

    I have had a very colorful, unusual, and at times, a dysfunctional past 68 years. Friends and family have often told me I should write a book about my life. Since I love comedy, drama and and sarcasm, the book would be quite comical.

    Is there anyone out there able to give me some direction as to how I might be evaluated in order to,perhaps, be of some help to scientific study of HSAM?

  3. cesar alvaro vidal
    May 13, 2014 at 2:30 am #

    the past is in my memory all the time, I remember the faces the body language, the way they talked, as I remember
    one event dozen more are floating in my brain waiting in line. I also have a paranormal activity.

Leave a Comment