SHELDON COOPER OF The Big Bang Theory (a TV show) has hyperthymesia. It is a term used to describe a person who can remember most of their life experiences and things they learned with great detail. This is different from having an above-average memory. There is no individual test for hyperthymesia, but evaluation procedures include extensive memory testing and questions related to public events that happened in the past.

People with hyperthymesia have an almost perfect memory. They can recall every single day of their lives, including a lot of detail, with near-complete accuracy. But this does not mean they can learn new concepts more easily, and they typically receive average scores on intelligence tests.

It is their ability to remember that is exceptional. The average person can remember important events and things that stand out to them although they tend to forget many things the brain considers less important. Also, the details are generally not entirely accurate when you recall past experiences. This is why two people who share the same experience may have very different memories when retelling the story.

People with hyperthymesia remember everything they experience. Their memory holds onto learned information,  and they can recall very specific details of the place and time when they learned this information.

The brain’s structure and activity level may differ among people with hyperthymesia. Research using brain imaging shows that people with hyperthymesia have a larger right amygdala and an improved connection between the amygdala and the hippocampus. They may also experience increased activity in the brain compared to people without hyperthymesia. This means that the brain may be sending and receiving more signals.

There is no individual diagnostic test for hyperthymesia syndrome. But it can be identified with a combination of screening tools such as Memory testing, Cognitive testing, and Interviewing.

Hyperthymesia is very rare. Although more cases are suspected, only 33 scientifically confirmed cases have been identified worldwide. Having so few cases makes identifying patterns and determining the condition’s causes challenging. It is not clear why some people get hyperthymesia.

While the causes are unknown, there may be some risk factors. Causes give rise to something occurring. Risk factors, though, can increase susceptibility but may or may not be the cause.

Thus, hyperthymesia is more than a good memory. It occurs in people who can accurately remember almost everything they have ever experienced or learned. They can recall past events and information in detail, including dates and facts. While they have remarkable memory abilities, they typically have average scores on intelligence tests.

Although no individual test exists to identify hyperthymesia, certain areas of the brain appear larger on imaging of people with this condition, and there may be a genetic component. Despite the benefits of having a good memory, hyperthymesia has downsides. It can be challenging to hold on to details of unpleasant events that people without hyperthymesia forget. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail June 3-9, 2024 issue)