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Exceptional Memory Linked to Bulked-Up Parts of Brain

Published on November 15, 2011 by   ·   No Comments

Laura Sanders/Science News

Brain image

© Unknown

People who can recall life’s events in detail have enlarged region linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder

Like the fictional detective Carrie Wells on the TV show Unforgettable, some real-life people can remember every day of their lives in detail. Those superrememberers have more bulk in certain parts of their brains, possibly explaining the remarkable ability to recall minutiae from decades ago, researchers said November 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

One brain region involved in such incredible recall has been implicated in obsessive-compulsive disorder, hinting that OCD and superior memory might have a common architecture in the brain.

Scientists have long studied people with memory deficits, but there haven’t been many studies on people with exceptional memories. “Looking at memory from a deficit gave us a lot of insight into memory,” said study coauthor Aurora LePort of the University of California, Irvine. “Looking at memory from a superior perspective gives us a new tool. It may just broaden our knowledge and ability to know what’s going on.”

In 2006, UC Irvine neuroscientist Larry Cahill and collaborators published a report on a woman who could remember detailed accounts of her life. Cahill and colleagues then began hearing from many people who claimed to have extraordinary memories. After sifting through and eliminating the impostors, the team was left with 11 people who scored off the charts for autobiographical memory. These people could effortlessly remember, for instance, what they were doing on November 2, 1989, and could also tell you that it was a Thursday. “They’re not going home and saying ‘OK, let me write down what I did today and memorize it,’ ” LePort said.

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