Do you have a good memory? : it s all good

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when you look back over the best times of your life, what memories come to mind? The birth of a little brother or sister? That Christmas when you got a new bicycle? An amazing family vacation to the Grand Canyon? it s all good

Memories are important. We're lucky that our brains can hold so many important memories, so that we can retrieve them and relive special moments from the past.

Not all memories are created equal, though. Have you noticed that? Has anyone ever asked, "Do you remember…?" But no matter how hard you try, you simply can't remember. That's OK. It happens to all of us from time to time.

For an extremely rare set of people, remembering the details of every single day from the past is as easy as remembering what happened yesterday for the rest of us. How can they do this? Scientists call it highly superior autobiographical memory or HSAM.

The study of HSAM began in 2000 when Jill Price (the first person ever to be diagnosed with HSAM) contacted Dr. James McGaugh, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, for help with her memory struggles.

Rather than always forgetting things, Price had the opposite problem: she couldn't forget things. Whenever someone mentioned a date, she could remember what day of the week it was, where she was, and what she did that day.

While some people might wish that they could go back in time more easily to remember past events, Price found it burdensome to be constantly remembering past events over and over again.

In 2006, after years of research and countless memory tests, McGaugh concluded Price (and a few others he had identified over the years) had a condition he originally called hyperthymesia and later changed to HSAM.

HSAM is not like having a photographic memory. People with HSAM are no better than others at remembering faces, phone numbers, or events and details that don't relate to them personally. Their superior ability to recall is limited to details of autobiographical events (events important to them personally).

To date, fewer than 100 people around the world have been diagnosed with HSAM. This makes the condition extremely rare and thus difficult for scientists to study in depth.

MRI tests have revealed some basic structural differences in the brains of those with HSAM. Currently, however, scientists don't know whether these differences are the cause of HSAM or the result of it.

Scientists hope that further testing will help them identify how people with HSAM store and retrieve memories. Understanding HSAM in greater depth may one day lead to more effective treatments for conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and memory loss.

Try It Out

Are you ready to work on your memory? Be sure to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Take a trip down memory lane with friends and family members. Grab some old photo albums and flip through them together. What fun times are you reminded of? Look closely at the photos. Do you have just a general recollection of the events in the photos? Or can you remember them vividly? Do you think it's important to take photos of important events? Why or why not?
  • Want to put your memory to the test? Visit the National Geographic Kids site to play a variety of Memory Games. Challenge your friends and family members to beat your best score!
  • If you could choose to have HSAM, would you want to be able to remember everything in great detail? What would the pros and cons of having HSAM be? Make a list of the positive and negative aspects of never forgetting anything. Do you think the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones? Why or why not?



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