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What Is Hyperthymesia?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hyperthymesia is an extremely rare neuropsychological condition marked by an extreme memory for personal history, often referred to as autobiographical memory. This syndrome, which is also known as piking, was first defined in an article from the neuropsychological journal Neurocase. The article states that the primary characteristics of a person with hyperthymesia syndrome are spending abundant time thinking about personal memories and having exceptional personal memory recall.

When a person with piking is given a date, she will often recall what day of the week the date fell on and any personal information surrounding her on that date. She may remember her school teacher’s name and how he was dressed or what television show and episode played on that date. If a historical event on that day was of personal interest to the person with hyperthymesia, that historical event may be recalled as well.

People with this syndrome tend to have poor eidetic or photographic memory and often complain of having trouble with rote memory tasks often required in school. They also do not have superior abilities or even sometimes normal abilities to remember sequences of numbers. People with this syndrome also have trouble with memory building skills and do not seem to easily improve their rote memory when memory skills and tools are taught to them. The key to the superior memory of a person with hyperthymesia is based solely on the recall of information that is personally linked to him.

Many people feel that this form of superior autobiographical memory recall would be a gift, but in reality it can be a curse. A person suffering from this syndrome has great difficulty stopping the flow of memories. Dates or conversation about a past event will often trigger a memory which will in turn trigger another memory and another in a cascade effect that locks the person with hyperthymesia into the past. This form of remembering, where one memory leads to another memory, is called episodic retrieval mode, and it is often virtually impossible to stop or extremely hard to control.

Preliminary positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans suggest that this problem may be rooted in the parts of the brain known as the left and right prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate gyrus, the caudate nuclei, and the temporal lobe. The left and right prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate gyrus are parts of the brain thought to control the episodic retrieval mode. In people with hyperthymesia, this area may be underdeveloped and contribute to the inability to stop memory flow. An MRI of one person with hyperthymesia has shown that their caudate nuclei and part of the temporal lobe are disproportionately larger than normal. This finding may suggest that these two brain areas may function together to perform personal memory recall and are accentuated in people with hyperthymesia.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1006212 — On Feb 12, 2022

Do people with hyperthymesia have an exceptional memory for dreams as well?

By anon966746 — On Aug 21, 2014

Everyone feels special and that they have must hyperthymesia, but have some excuse as to how they have a very unique variant of HSAM that just needs an explanation but that's contradictory to the very definition of hyperthymsia. Your PTSD and TBI are not connected to what this condition is or does. The same goes for a bad childhood or depression or being able to recall every time you had your heart broken.

Study the brain and reflect and if you need absolute proof, then get an MRI. You're not one of the 22 individuals in the entire world who have this.

By anon947615 — On Apr 26, 2014

I remember every day of my life since I was 4 and a couple prior to that. It is a movie. However, the test does not apply to me as news depresses me and so I have never paid attention to it and dates.

By anon923967 — On Jan 01, 2014

I first came across hyperthymesia in an article in December 2011 and was struck that the person described deciding at the age of four to remember every day going forward.

So I made the same decision in December 2011, and over two years later I am continuing the experiment. I don't claim to be hyperthymestic, as I use memory techniques to record and refresh images with the key facts I want to remember for each day, most of which open up many more memories about the day. The technique I use has developed over time. I didn't know at the outset I would be able to continue this process, but it seems sustainable as I enter the third year of remembering every day that passes. It does seem to have an impact on my memory in general and I am interested to see whether actively remembering every day that passes counters the effects of aging on memory.

By anon343867 — On Aug 03, 2013

Hyperthymesia is not part of PTSD. However, getting stuck in episodic retrieval mode can occur in PTSD, so it would be valuable to compare (presumably with functional MRIs) the extent to which specific brain areas are affected by both conditions.

By anon342672 — On Jul 23, 2013

This article does what psychiatry is expert at: use scientific language to present a theory as fact. They use terms such as "may suggest," "may be rooted," "thought to control..."

There is nothing here but theory. I saw a documentary with some people with this type of memory and they were actually very comfortable with it, although socially, it posed problems sometimes. The problem wasn't them, however. It was with other people. One issue one woman had was with psychiatrists trying to label it as a condition and stigmatise them as freaks.

By anon342449 — On Jul 20, 2013

Can a TBI cause this, and the testing? am really curious about the testing issue at school. I am a student in a junior college, and I cannot remember the answers to test questions if my life depended on it. I do have TBI, and it has caused several learning issues, however when testing on any subject, I just go blank. My mind goes blank. I can study for days, I take detailed notes, and I am focused in class. But on test day, I bomb!

By anon342447 — On Jul 20, 2013

I am fascinated to know whether people with the condition have a better memory capacity, or do we all have the same hardware but they just have a better search engine - or some thing cheerfully grey in between?

By anon342385 — On Jul 20, 2013

I've also been diagnosed with PTSD and can find myself relating to this a lot!

By anon342381 — On Jul 20, 2013

I just found this on Facebook and it’s kind of a revelation because I think I have the same problem described here. I remember almost everything in so much detail, it is crazy. Sometimes, people argue with me, but I know they can’t understand that when they tell me a date, it’s like if I was there again. I feel, see, listen and can recall everything as if I am walking in the memory. It is cool, but very sad at the same time.

I mean, sometimes I remember my dad who is now dead, and it’s like he is alive again, and then the memory ends and I am back.

Sometimes a tune triggers a memory and I turn off and live the memory as if I were there and if I am doing something, I stop doing it! Sometimes I think of bad memories and the rage comes back like the first day it happened, and it doesn’t stop there. I can go on with so many more examples of how it is a problem but also has a good side. Sometimes I remember a sequence or the position of something, but I have to rewind my day in my head and then I find the information.

Sometimes, I get such a headache, but I can remember some number sequences, but I have to see it and then I can recall everything by looking in my memory, and I can remember what I have read, too. Anyway, I get stuck in my head so many times that it is time and energy consuming.

By anon342376 — On Jul 20, 2013

I believe that people with this condition don't have lapses in memory. They can literally recall every day and every detail that is personally relevant to them. So, I don't think you had it.

By anon279975 — On Jul 15, 2012

I have this. I have OCD and learning disabilities-ADHD and always assumed it was tied to those. I also have PTSD from bad experiences in school and memories of other bad experiences that weren't even that traumatic. I can announce for example that on July 16, in 1995 I was coming back with my aunt from the Adirondack Mountains after a bad storm known as the "Adirondack Blowdown" which had hit the previous night. We got home the following day, Sunday. At the same time my short term memory is not good. I was told about hyperthymesia this morning by my father and had forgotten the name when I got home three hours later. Anything at work has to be written down or I forget and I did not do well in school. I can often look at a calendar and begin examining even better where I was on given dates.

1992: In the Adirondacks but Dad hadn't arrived yet. I saw Sister Act either that night or the following night with my brother and grandparents.

1993: I don't know.

1994: It was one week before we drove home from the Adirondacks. I think that makes it the day my Dad got annoyed that I wrecked a tape he was making of music but am not positive.

1996: I was at Riverview School's Summer Camp the week between my parent's visit and when I came home. It was that week that a TWA Jetliner exploded off of Long Island but I had to look up the date of the crash.

1997: I don't know.

1998: I went to dinner with my Dad, brother, and a guy named Ric Smith who was seeing my single aunt at the time.

1999: I went to a Catholic Healing Mass in the Adirondack Mountains with my mother and brother. The next day we heard that John F Kennedy Jr. was killed in a plane crash (missing and declared dead a few days later).

2000: I don't know.

2001: I was in the Adirondacks and my mother had arrived up with my siblings (minus Thomas) that previous weekend (two days earlier).

2002: I don't know that day, but know I had told my grandmother something about a piece of furniture my mother has always wanted when they are older and it embarrassed my mother I'd said it.

2003: I have no clue.

2004: I was in Houston with my parents and we came back the following day.

2005: I don't know.

2006: I was leaving the next day for the Canadian Rockies. My grandfather left me some stuff to take.

2007: I don't know for sure, but I believe I had returned from Canadian Rockies two days earlier but can't swear by that as I can on the other things.

2008: No idea.

2009: I was in Zion National Park with my father. I couldn't confirm this by date but am 95 percent sure and so I confirmed it by looking up when Walter Cronkite died, since I know I was in Zion when I heard he died.

2010: I don't know.

2011: I don't know.

2012: Today.

By anon261630 — On Apr 16, 2012

I am curious since I was told years ago I have PTSD whether or not Hyperthemsia is part of that psychologically? My memory recall of traumatic events throughout my entire life is very much total recall and also unstoppable, while in the process of remembering. The recall came about after another traumatic event late in my life. Prior to that event I blocked all memory of lifelong events.

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