Last night, entertainment reporter Katie McGee of CBS2 News in New York sat down with actress Marilu Henner to talk about a highly unusual medical condition. Henner apparently has what is called a Highly Superior Auto-Biographical Memory, or H-SAM. The “Taxi” actress is one of only about a dozen people in the United States with this gift/curse which allows her to remember every day with an insane level of detail.
“You say April 3, 1992 and all of a sudden the whole week starts presenting itself to me,” Henner tells McGee in the interview. “That was a Friday and I was in New York, actually. Early that week, on Monday the 30th, I had won $1,760 at a winner-take-all Academy Awards pool. It was a clean sweep of the Oscars, ‘Silence Of The Lambs’, Jodie Foster.”
In the interview, Henner explains a strange fact: it’s not that you lose and/or forget memories, it’s more like you misplace them.
Scientists believe that the human brain stores almost everything—but that, given the vast amount of information up there—it’s hard to retrieve the correct memory at the exact moment you need it.
“Every single thing that you have ever done is on your hard drive,” Henner explained to McGee last night.
And she believes that even people without H-SAM can improve their recall. In fact, she has written a whole book called “Total Memory Makeover” about how to do it.
“Recalling memories is kind of like karaoke,” says Henner. “You know the first one is hard—then you can’t get the microphone away from people. You start opening up those memories, and it’s just a floodgate opens.”
Some of Henner’s tips? To take mental snapshots of things you want to remember. To make memories stick more by thinking about them as exciting rather than ho-hum. She also suggests thinking about what she calls your “track.”
“Your track is something you remember exceptionally well,” said Henner. “It’s probably something you love to talk about. People have a travel track, a sports track, and relationship track.”
Side note: If Henner’s condition reminds you a bit of that TV show “Unforgettable,” starring Poppy Montgomery as a detective who can never forget anything—except what happened the day her sister was murdered—there is a reason for it. Henner is a consultant for the show, and even has a role in it.
But the real question is: how is your memory? If I gave you random dates, like Katie McGee did for Henner, would you be able to root up details? Are there things you find easier to remember than others?