From remembering that first kiss to where you put your glasses, memories play a vital role in the human experience and existence. It’s always been assumed that those with sharper memory have an easier time and don’t need to work as hard.
While that may be true, there is the distinct possibility that even those with extraordinary memory abilities may be just as vulnerable to memory inaccuracies as everyone else.
There are four ways that memory can be accessed:
• Recall happens when you are able to get the information without being cued.
• Recollection involves reconstructing memories using clues, narratives or even logical structures. For example, when you’re writing an essay, that process involves remembering a few pieces of information and then restructuring the information based on those partial memories and logical reasoning.
• Recognition happens when you identify what you’ve already experienced. For example, on a multiple choice test, you are able to recognize the correct answer quickly.
• Relearning the information you’ve already learned usually makes it easier to remember and retrieve it in the future.
The retrieval process isn’t perfect, however. For example, you could experience a memory that is right at the edge of retrieval but you’re not fully able to access it. This is sometimes called the ‘tip of the tongue’ experience.
Then there are those with highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), also known as hyperthymesia. Their brains are wired to recall the specifics of their lives in nearly perfect detail. They have vivid, uncontrollable associations without any hesitation or conscious effort. HSAM brains vary structurally in many ways when compared to others. They have more robust white matter linking and can even recall the day of the week when given a past calendar date.
While they aren’t memory experts, the remarkable detail with which they recall certain lifetime information leads scientists to wonder the true cause of this phenomenon.
With such recall, it seems unlikely that the memories of those with HSAM could be manipulated, but a recent study from the University of California, Irvine challenged that assumption. They found that those with HSAM we just as susceptible to false memories as those with average memory recollection. These results mean that the mechanisms responsible for memory distortions may be widespread among humans, regardless of superior memory ability.
This kind of memory malleability has significant implications to clinical psychology as well as legal fields where accurate memory recall has significant, life-altering consequences.