A single case study first documented one woman’s ability to recall accurately vast amounts of autobiographical information, spanning most of her lifetime, without the use of practiced mnemonics (Parker, Cahill, & McGaugh, 2006). Further research has reported findings based on eleven participants expressing this same memory ability, now referred to as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). Participants were identified and subsequently characterized based on screening for memory of public events. They were then tested for personal autobiographical memories as well as for memory assessed by laboratory memory tests. Additionally, whole-brain structural MRI scans were obtained. Results indicated that HSAM participants performed significantly better at recalling public as well as personal autobiographical events as well as the days and dates on which these events occurred. However, their performance was comparable to age- and sex-matched controls on most standard laboratory memory tests. Neuroanatomical results identified nine structures as being morphologically different from those of control participants. The study of HSAM may provide new insights into the neurobiology of autobiographical memory.
In a recent study (Leport et al., 2016), we investigated the differences in memory for HSAMs and controls for very recent information as well as more remote memories. Interestingly, for memories that were one-week old, both HSAMs and controls recalled the same amount of information. However, at a longer delay of one-month, HSAMs displayed much greater recall performance than controls (figure 1). Specifically, HSAMs showed remarkable consistency for memories that were one-week and one-month old, while controls’ recall declined dramatically after one month. Finally, we showed that the degree of consistency of recall was correlated with obsessive-compulsive tendencies in the HSAM group (figure 8).
LePort AKR, Stark SM, McGaugh JL, & Stark CEL (2016). A cognitive assessment of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. Memory, doi: 10.1080/09658211.2016.1160126
LePort AKR, Stark SM, McGaugh JL, & Stark CEL (2016) Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory: Quality and quantity of retention over time. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:2017. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02017.
LePort, AKR, Mattfeld, AT, Dickinson-Anson, H, Fallon JH, Stark, CEL, Kruggel, FR, Cahill, L, & McGaugh, JL (2012) A behavioral and neuroanatomical investigation of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 98(1), 78-92.
Patihis L, Frenda SJ, LePort AKR, Petersen N, Nichols RM, Stark CEL, McGaugh JL, & Loftus EF (2013). False memories in highly superior autobiographical memory individuals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(52): 20947-20952.
We have many collaborators on this project, but most notably is Dr. James McGaugh, who has spearheaded this project from the beginning. We are grateful for his guidance and support on this exciting project.