when memories never disappear

“Everyone told me I had a good memory. It took me a long time to understand that it wasn’t just that. » Since her childhood, Catherine Dhaussy remembers almost everything that happens to her. She remembers, for example, the thousands of hours spent on school benches, her classmates and teachers, whereas her friends from the time have a much more partial memory. And this gap sometimes played tricks on her, before she put her finger on it: “I was shocked that people forgot, I took it as contempt! I had to wait until I was over 40 for a psychotherapistpsychotherapist poses the word “hypermnesia”.

Although rare, cases of extraordinary memories have been described for a long time. If we put aside the techniques developed to more easily retain a large amount of information, there remain people whose memory seems naturally limitless. Russian neurologist Alexander Luria reports a famous case. From the 1920s, he observed and tested the abilities of a man capable of remembering all the elements of his daily life. Even after years, the latter still remembers long sequences of random numbers given to him by the doctor. This “absolute” memory was explained in particular by a synesthesiasynesthesia very advanced: everything he heard or felt caused appearances of shapes and colors in his field of vision, which marked him for life.

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Hypermnesia, when memories don’t disappear

An uncontrolled crowd of memories

But hypermnesia is distinguished from eidetic memories, also called photographic memories, which concern people capable of recording almost all the details they can see. Hypermnesics, for their part, do not continuously record all the stimuli they are confronted with, but retain the memory of the events they have experienced. They therefore do not remember everything: it is rather that they do not forget what they focused their attention on. The first case of HSAM, for highly superior autobiographical memory (autobiographical memoirautobiographical memoir highly superior, or hypermnesia), was only described in 2006. It concerns a young woman whose mass…


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