Hypermnesia (almost unlimited memory): causes and symptoms

Being able to remember the things we live in is something most people appreciate as a positive thing., Which allows us to learn and cherish what we have been through. Over time, we tend to forget much of the information we receive, which we find adaptive as it allows us to make room for our awareness for new information to arrive.

Many people wish they could hold more information in their memory for longer, so that their memories never fade away. however, this does not happen in cases of hypermnesia, in which all kinds of memories remain vivid and fresh in memory permanently.

Hypermnesia: when you remember everything

Most people are able to remember specific moments that marked them deeply. The first kiss, the last time we saw a loved one before their death … The emotions these events provoke in us mean that certain details remain with us forever. However, even in this type of memory, we tend to keep only small denominations, forgetting a large amount of detail that we consider unimportant.

People who suffer from hypermnesia, also called hypertension, they have a much higher than average memory and evocation capacity, To be able to memorize with great precision and in detail a lot of material. This capability allows them to be able to encode, store and retrieve new content very quickly so that they can use it when it’s needed. It is an extremely useful ability that has nothing to do with the level of intelligence of those who possess it and which in itself is not pathological.

The memory capacity of these subjects is mainly subject to a specific type of memory: autobiographical memory. People with hypermnesia are able to remember almost every detail of the facts they have experienced. However, they are generally no longer capable in other types of memory unless they are able to link stimuli to memories of a personal type.

The problems of this memory impairment

However, sometimes the memory does not focus only on the aspects that the individual wants to remember, but there can be serious difficulties of abstraction and selection of the material retained, causing significant discomfort for the subject which decreases his functionality and can cause anxiety and severe mood swings. In these cases, it could be considered a pathology, called hypermnesic syndrome.

In many cases, hypermnesia or hyperthermia occurs in people with obsessive featuresThis can be one of the factors contributing to the retention capacity or an indirect effect of this capacity.

Although very few people suffer from this strange syndrome, several cases have been documented both in the past and in recent times in which some individuals indicate that they are able to remember every detail of what they have experienced. since childhood or adolescence.

Some differences at the neuroanatomical level

The few cases of hypermnesia studied show that they present peculiarities in certain areas and certain elements of the brain.

It has been detected that in these people the frontal and temporal parts of the brain have a stronger connection, with a higher white matter density, than in the majority of the population. Apparently there are alterations in the inferior and medial temporal coils of the temporal lobe, an area in which the unciform fascicle is located which plays an important role in autobiographical memory. In people with hypermnesia, this fascicle is widely developed.

In addition, in some cases, a larger size of the amygdala and its connections to the hippocampus has been detected compared to subjects without hypermnesia. This fact supports the belief that the increase in the level of memory is related to the connection of stimuli with emotions.

hypermnesic phenomena

Hypermnesia is a rare occurrence with very few reported cases. However, there are a large number of phenomena linked to this type of problem which appear occasionally in certain subjects.

In some cases, the great moments that stood out to us can come across as vivid memories in the form of flash, especially when we refer to important moments in which we clearly remember what we were doing when this case happened ( for example, the arrival of man to the moon).

Hypermnesic-type phenomena also appear in certain disorders such as psychotics or manic disorders.Especially when these memories are used for a specific purpose such as justification of abnormal behavior.

It is also possible that an event which caused us a profound emotional alteration, usually events experienced during childhood or certain traumatic events, is memorized in a particularly vivid way and may even confuse the past and the present and consider the memory that ‘this is the current experience. . This phenomenon is known as ecmnesia.

Benefit or torture?

As we have said before, for many people, being able to remember all the facts in their life or just remembering a lot more information is a positive thing. Quick memorization of information can facilitate the learning of many disciplines and skillsIt gives us a good ability to remember things that are important to us and our loved ones and can even open doors for us to jobs or other opportunities.

However, while some people with hypermnesia lead relatively normal lives, for others their condition can be extremely painful and crippling. And it is that in some cases what could have been a gift turned into a curse that caused them serious hardship in all walks of life.

In this sense, not being able to forget means that whenever we have to take concrete action, we have to stop for a long time to organize our mental content, which leads to a strong tendency to distract and a decrease in the productivity of our actions. . .

This can make it difficult to distinguish between the necessary and the circumstantial, placing great emphasis on things that shouldn’t really be needed. It can also generate a lot of indecision in the patient.

Emotionally painful memories

Likewise, being able to remember very clearly makes painful events that have happened to us throughout our lives not be overcome quickly, staying for longer feelings such as guilt and humiliation in the psyche itself. even and making the grieving process a much bigger challenge than usual.

Decreases attention and learning ability

It also complicates the acquisition of new knowledge, as the level of attention decreases with the application of mental resources to try to filter and use the necessary memories and not others.

Likewise, this makes the transition from learning to task automation difficult, Since not only the basic procedure is memorized, but all the associated details and it is therefore more difficult to disregard what is necessary from what is incidental.

In addition, in some cases, the liveliness of the disc can cause confusion between the past and the present, and can lead to ecmnesic delusions in which it is believed that what is in fact a memory is being experienced.

Is it really an infinite memory?

It should be noted that hypermnesia, although a very striking phenomenon, is still confined to the field of mental processes (cognitive, in particular) and therefore depends on the functioning of the brain. This is so because you hold the opposite it would mean defending dualism in psychology, The belief that there is something incorporeal separate from the world material which in turn affects the latter. In other words, an unscientific point of view.

On the other hand, in many cases of people with hypermnesia, it goes hand in hand with an abnormal brain. Kim Peek, for example, in addition to being able to memorize entire books, did not have a corpus callosum connecting the two cerebral hemispheres. It would be a great coincidence that these two facts have nothing to do, of course, with extraordinary mental abilities. they exist because behind them is an extraordinary nervous system.

This means that hypermnesia has a limit simply because it comes from something that is also limited: the brain, by its material nature.

Bibliographical references:

  • LePort, AKR; Mattfeld, AT; Dickinson-Anson, H .; Fallon, JH; Stark, CEL; Kruggel, F .; Cahill, L. and McGaugh, JL. Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory Behavioral and Neuroanatomical Research (HSAM) Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 2012; 98 (1): 78.

  • Linscott, RJ and Knight, RG (2001). Automatic hypermnesia and memory impairment in schizophrenia. Neuropsychology, 15, 576-585.

  • Sants, JL (2012). Psychopathology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 01. CEDE. Madrid.

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