Superior autobiographical memory

In Watch on February 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

Here’s a 60 Minutes story Lesley Stahl did in December on individuals who have the ability to recall every single day of their lives.  Each part is around 13 minutes long.  (You can also watch in a little bit better quality at the 60 Minutes website.)

Part 1

Part 2

“They can do with their memories what you and I can do about yesterday.”

Amazing, but it can also have a flip-side:

“Sometimes having this sort of extreme memory can be sort of isolating.”

I have a friend who has commented that the ability to let memories and ideas decay over time is more of a feature than a bug.  One of the researchers in the piece quotes American psychologist William James on this idea:

“If we remembered everything, we should on most occasions be as ill-off as if we remembered nothing.”

The five of them don’t seem to feel this way, though the piece does explore some of the drawbacks.

Also, at 60 Minutes Overtime there is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how Lesley Stahl and her producer developed the story.  Stahl knew Marilu Henner as a friend, and knew that Henner had this gift.  When Stahl’s producer tried to sell her on the story about this super-rare condition, Stahl kept turning it down because she didn’t think it was that special.  “C’mon, it can’t be that rare.  I have a friend right over here who can do that too.”


  1. I have the opposite of this gift. See me soon on 60 Minutes…or in the case of my memory span, 60 Seconds.

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