Behind the ’60 Minutes’ Interview: Lesley Stahl on Superior Autobiographical Memory

Robin Platzer, Twin Images

People with the rare gift of being able to recall every day of their lives are a tiny, but growing group that scientists are just beginning to study. Lesley Stahl brings some of them together — including her friend Marilu Henner — for the first time

11 comments so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    Being able to recall EVERY day of my life would be a curse.  There are whole swaths I would wipe out if I could.

    • avatar Jane H says:

      Oh Lila… I agree…. Some memories are best left forgotten, unless they’re just under the surface of consciousness and causing havoc in one’s emotional well-being… those need to be brougth to the surface and purged!

  2. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    After actually seeing something so remarkable, I then would like to know then if these people – if they actually spent a great deal of time reading, studying – would then be able to win just about every quiz show??  Or does this autobiographical ability remain just that and that no phenonenal intelligence ever go along with this??  Why do I ask?  Because frankly, I may be amazed but I really don’t need that kind of memory clogging up my brain, particularly if it does not allow my learning ability to continue at a high rate.  Then taking this one step farther, I wonder if tests have been done on that facet?  I am one that – now that I have seen this – I find that other questions keep popping up in my brain.  . and won’t stop. 

  3. avatar Bonnie O says:

    I find this subject fascinating.

    Some years ago Mr. James Burke of the UK did a series for PBS entitled The Day the Universe Changed.  In one episode, Mr. Burke discussed that fact that in the Middle Ages and even earlier there were folks who also had phenomenal memories.  These people were often called before a county council to testify as to contracts made and to the  history of the village and surrounding area.  They often shared their memories with the aid of music or chanting.  In addition, Mr. Burke suggested that the trait of memory retention may not have been as rare as it is today.   He suggested that as humans progressed to writing etc. that their ability to remember was lessened.   Very interesting, I thought.

    Good job, Lesley …. it was a terrific 60 Minutes program.

  4. avatar Maggie W says:

    I found the interview to be amazing. Most of us have a reliable file cabinet on top of our shoulders. When we need to recall something, the first two or three drawers are still in good order and easy to access. Go back three or fours years, and we are deep in search mode. These incredible persons have the ability to finely compartmentalize their file cabinets and instantly process information from the deep caverns of that file cabinet within seconds. This does not clutter their day to day thinking because they are still processing and filing new information, which they may or may not need later. What about bad memories such as a lover’s break up? Unless they choose to go to that file drawer, it’s not a problem. But of all the interview subjects, only one was married. That I found interesting, although it may have no bearing on their unusual talent at all. It was another great 60 Minutes interview.

  5. avatar Linda Myers says:

    My grandson has done this since he was tiny, even the smallest details he can tell you when, with who and why. He use to start phrases with “Don’t you remember .. ” Even down to the times when he read a particular book or who read it to him, took a walk with somebody, the first time he tried a food, etc. He remembers, and now instead of just thinking grandma is daft, he realizes not everyone has the recall. :-) The process seems to have made him a much deeper thinker also with the ability to tie together then and now with more understanding.

  6. avatar Sue Fawcett says:

    I find it interesting that scientists believed that the retention of everything in one’s experience in memory was physically impossible until the autobiographical memory was discovered. A fascinating aspect of the operation of this memory is the organizational aspect – each person identified with this memory spoke of the pleasing mental gymnastics associated with organizing their experiences, similar to a database. The enormous volume of experiences/memories are (thus) able to be managed because of this organizational aspect. It’s fascinating to witness a long-held scientific belief (that the human brain could not possibly have the ability of full memory retention) refuted so profoundly.

  7. avatar MATTHEW HARRIS says:

    well, i imagine marilu has no problem remembering her lines. now all she needs to do is get more work.

  8. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Hi again Lesley,

    Again, another topic that will hit home with millions about millions of Americans.   For the last year, I have been visiting one of a wonderful chain of assisted living homes that actually allow the newcomers to bring their dog and cat from their prior home.  Each visit I have asked questions and watched closely how well the residents are doing with the love of an animal. . . and frankly, I have been blown away at how well adjusted those with their own animals are — as against those that do not have that human companion.  The assisted living homes are wonderful and run by Sunrise — who will tell you amazing tales of how animals and not pills enhance the quality of life there.

    Today in WSJournal, I came across the first article I have seen that correlates with my own writing, using trained dogs to come in with patients of psychologists and psychiatrists — and again, the dogs often are able to open up the patients as no doctor can emulate.  For me, a non-dog lover, who has gained belief in the positive effects of dogs and humans, this has opened up new ground that I intend to pursue.

    But perhaps — as saying “dog” elicits such positive response in large numbers of people, this might be a topic that could be pursued in a larger audience than I could ever address.  I being touched by a dog?  I would never have believed it — but there are things in this world that haven’t been fully put together . . . but when they have, the positives are extremely wonderful and productive.  And touching.  Joan

  9. avatar mary burdt says:

    Hi Joan,  as we are all getting older, and aren’t we all, we know the time will come when we might need to live in an assisted living environment.  How special this solution is for those of us who love our pets to think we would not have to leave these friends behind.  I think most people who love their pets worry about what would happen to them when we either move to assisted living or pass on.
    Sunset sounds like a place we should know more about.  Will you write more on this?  You are someone I believe in and value your opinion on practically everything. Thanks, Mary