Exceptional Memory

Memory is fundamental in shaping our identities, behavior and schemas of the world. The malleability of human memory allows our recollection of past experiences to be flexible yet fragile. In the past decade, there has been an increasing prevalence of individuals possessing the ability to retain and recall vast amounts of information at an exceedingly high rate. This phenomenon is known as Exceptional Memory. Exceptional Memory currently exists within the following modalities: autobiographical, visual images and numbers or music. The ability to remember large capacities of information in these modalities is identified as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, Eidetic Memory and Savant Syndrome, respectively. Currently, case studies have shown superior memory to be automatic, fast and modality-specific. The nature of this type of memory makes it difficult for individuals to control their recollection. In addition, individuals experiencing this ability do not show cognitive processing of the information they encode. Recent research has shown indications of mechanisms such as a higher activity in the amygdala, the NR2B gene and an increase in cortical surface area as factors contributing to this phenomenon. As well, there have been implications of relatedness to other neurological diseases such as dementia and synesthesia.

Eidetic Memory

main article: Eidetic Memory
author: Jee Min Lee
Eidetic memory is the ability to recall extremely detailed and vivid images. It is also refered to as “photographic” memory because it is just like taking a photograph and retrieving it from your memory ‘album’ from which you can see every details of it. However, there is still a debate on whether a true eidetic memory exists.

Sheldon Couoer, a main character in the TV series The Big Bang Theory

Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory

main article: Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory
author: Sandra Zhou
Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) is the ability to retain a large capacity of vivid and accurate personal events. In 2006, hyperthymesic syndrome was coined to describe a condition where individuals automatically remember past autobiographical experiences triggered by a location, event or person[1]. Individuals diagnosed with hyperthymesia are able to account his or her past in extreme detail, allowing them to recall memories such as events that had occurred, the clothes people wore and the conversations that were held[2]. In contrast to the typical forgetting curve of daily events, individuals with hyperthymesia have the ability to remember past histories of their day-to-day lives for long periods of time. This phenomenon is a type of Exceptional Memory.

60 Minutes[3]
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Individuals with HSAM
1. Hyperthymesia. (2012). What is hyperthymesia and who has it? Hyperthymesia.org. Retrieved from http://www.hyperthymesia.org/.
2. Cleary, A. (2013). People with Extraordinary Autobiographical Memory. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quirks-memory/201301/people-extraordinary-autobiographical-memory.
3. White, R. (2011). Superior Autobiographical Memory[jpg]. Retrieved March 26, 2014 from http://brainathlete.com/superior-autobiographical-memory/.


main article: Savantism
author: Ka Shum

Savantism: Islands of Genius
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Source: Wisconsin Medical Society

Savantism is a neurological phenomenon that has manifested itself within savants as islands of genius, which refer to the talent in music, visual arts [5], exceptional memory, and enhanced calculation abilities [6]. Savant skills tend to be associated with the right hemisphere because the lack of top-down contribution allows the right hemisphere to become the dominant hemisphere [1]. An investigation using MRI into the neuroanatomy and neurochemistry of the savant brain revealed a larger right cerebral hemisphere in comparison to the left, increased hippocampal volume, and larger fiber tract bundle volumes in these sections [3]. Another study by Bor et al in 2007 observed hyperactivity in the lateral prefrontal cortex in their savant participant. Many of the above structures and connections are implicated in memory and learning [3], so the increases in these structures may have a correlation with the enhancement in cognitive abilities such as how an increase in hippocampi volume improves memory [4]. Many of these changes observed in the savant brain are also observed in the autistic brain; therefore further research into understanding how these changes in neural structures affect cognitive abilities can aid both understanding savantism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) [3] and possibly explain why 50% of savants are coupled with ASD but only 10% of autistics are also savants [6].

1. Bokkon, I., Salari, V., Scholkmann, F., Dai, J., Grass, F.. (2013). Interdisciplinary implications on autism, savantism, Asperger syndrome and the biophysical picture representation: Thinking in pictures. Cognitive Systems Research, 22-23: 67-77.
2. Bor, D., Billington, J., Baron-Cohen, S.. (2007). Savant memory for digits in a case of synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome is related to hyperactivity in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Neuroscience, 13: 311-319.
3. Corrigan, N. M., Richards, T. L., Treffert, D. A., & Dager, S. R. (2012). Toward a better understanding of the savant brain. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 53(6): 706-717.
4. Erickson, K.I., Voss, M.W., Prakash, R.S., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L., Kim, J.S., Heo, S., Alves, H., White, S.M., Wojcicki, T.R., Mailey, E., Vieira, V.J., Martin, S.A., Pence, B.D., Woods, J.A., McAuley, E., Kramer, A.F., Gage, F.. (2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. 108: 7: 3017-3022.
5. Howlin, P., Goode, S., Hutton, J., Rutter, M.. (2009). Savant skills in autism: Psychometric approaches and parental reports. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B. 364: 1359-1367.
6. Treffert, D.A.. (2009). The savant syndrome: An extraordinary condition. A synopsis: Past, present, future. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B, 364: 1351-1357.

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