WHY CAN A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE REMEMBER
NEARLY EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIVES? SCIENTISTS
ARE TRYING TO FIND OUT � �60 MINUTES� SUNDAY
Lesley Stahl Discovers One of her Own Friends, Actress Marilu Henner, is One of the Small, Special Group of People with �Superior Autobiographical Memory�
They can tell you what the weather was 20 years ago on a day picked at random when the rest of us have trouble remembering what we ate for lunch yesterday. They can recall almost every day of their lives. People with �superior autobiographical memory� are a tiny, but growing group that scientists are just beginning to study. Lesley Stahl brings some of them together for the first time � including actress Marilu Henner, who Stahl realized had this ability but never knew how rare it was � for a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 19 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
�It was slightly rainy and cloudy on January 14, 15th. It was very hot the weekend of the 27th, 28th . No rain,� recalls Louise Owen, one of the six known people with superior autobiographical memory, when asked by a scientist which days it rained in January � in the year 1990! Watch an excerpt.
�They can do with their memories what you and I can do about yesterday�and they can do it every day,� says the scientist, Dr. James McGaugh, a professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine. �It could be a new chapter�These people come and display a kind of memory we've never seen before, and we have to say, �Woo, what is that about?� So we�re going to take a look and see if we can figure that out. And it could be very important,� McGaugh tells Stahl.
As she considered doing this story, Stahl realized Henner, one of her longtime friends, had this ability and didn�t know how rare it was. Henner, who starred in the hit television show, �Taxi,� describes it. �It�s like putting in a DVD and it cues up to certain places. I am there again�seeing things visually as I would have that day,� she says.
On Sunday, 60MinutesOvertime.com will feature a Web-only segment in which Stahl explains more of the story of Henner and superior autobiographical memory.
Henner was tested by McGaugh and pronounced the 6th person with superior autobiographical memory the scientific world is aware of. Henner joins Owen and Rick Baron, Brad Williams, and Bob Petrella for the first-ever gathering of this unique group that is captured by 60 MINUTES cameras for Sunday�s report.
Jill Price was the first person discovered with the ability, but she did not wish to meet the others in the group interview. She complains of being haunted by a stream of never-ending memories. Owen sometimes has negative feelings about her mega memory, saying she can feel isolated sometimes and like she speaks a language know one else knows. But ultimately, she feels it forces her to lead a more meaningful life. �Because I know that I'm going to remember whatever happens today, it's like, �all right, what can I do to make today significant?,�� she tells Stahl. �What can I do that is going to make today stand out?�
Scientists like McGaugh are just beginning to scratch the surface on this rare ability. MRI�s have begun to reveal people with superior autobiographical memory seem to have larger temporal lobes, the part of the brain neurobiologists believe stores new memory. They hope to one day use the information about such people to help study disorders like Alzheimer�s.
Says McGaugh, �Surprising thing is that these people don't appear to have cluttered brains. They can pull out the right information at the right time, and that's the puzzle.�