The Wonder of the Eidetic Memory
Some people in this world such as Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper possess a memory with such extreme precision that they can recall events in detail from years or even decades in the past. They refer to this amazing skill as an eidetic memory. It turns out that individuals with this ability actually have different brains than normal people. A new study by University of California (UC) Irvine scientists found that these special people had variations in nine separate structures within the brain, and more robust white matter linking the middle and front parts.
The researchers, led by neurobiologist James McGaugh, studied a real woman known as "AJ". She had been on TV shows and other media outlets as people tested her uncanny talent and were amazed. McGaugh's team found nearly a dozen other people like AJ, and found that all possessed similar brain variations.
They refered to their eidetic memory an autobiographical memory. This type of memory is also known as a photographic memory because it is as though the people actually see a picture as they recall past events. However, an eidetic memory is not limited to just visual aspects; it also includes auditory, touch, taste, and olfactory dimensions.
The researchers tested the individuals using a routine laboratory memory test. Surprisingly, the people with eidetic memories did not score higher on these tests. But when asked to recall public or private events occurring at age 10 ½ or later, they were substantially better.
"These are not memory experts across the board. They're 180 degrees different from the usual memory champions who can memorize pi to a large degree or other long strings of numbers," Aurora LePort noted, a doctoral candidate at UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. "It makes the project that much more interesting; it really shows we are homing in on a specific form of memory."
The researchers were really stunned at the speed and accuracy of those with superior autobiographical memory. Upon receiving a random date, they responded immediately with detailed events and even the day of the week.
The researchers also found that many in this special group also possess obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but it is unsure if this affects or aids in the recalling of information. Further studies will try to understand the mechanism behind the memory. Perhaps the cause is simply the way their brains are structured and communicating with itself. It could be molecular or even genetic. It could even be the next evolution of the human mind. One thing is for sure, don't try to pull a fast one on these people. It's not going to work!
This study has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Image credit: CBS, The Big Bang Theory