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Behavioral, cognitive and neural correlates of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory


Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) is a newly discovered memory phenomenon entailing the prodigious and accurate recall of autobiographical events and the days/dates on which they occurred. The motivation of this dissertation research is to elucidate potential behavioral, cognitive and neural features supporting HSAM. Specifically, experiment I provides a descriptive background of HSAM in terms of its accuracy and its specificity to the recollection of autobiographical information. Moreover, a foundation for neuroanatomical correlates of HSAM is built; Neuroanatomical differences are featured and a discussion of their relationship to autobiographical memory is made. Experiment II expands upon encoding and retrieval processes of HSAM participants and also provides a behavioral basis for HSAM. The rate at which HSAM participants forget is elucidated, the proclivity for HSAM participants to be superior learners is touched upon, and the quality of autobiographical details recalled from very recent to very remote events is established. A behavioral foundation for HSAM is constructed through the elucidation of a link between compulsive behaviors (i.e. rumination) expressed by HSAM participants and the consistency of autobiographical details recalled over time. Experiment III explores the possibility of enhanced cognitive mechanisms (other than autobiographical memory) supporting HSAM. A variety of cognitive mechanisms, implicated by the literature in their contribution to memory, are tested. Weaved into this experiment is an autobiographical memory test of their experience participating in the cognitive battery itself. Observation of their recollection reveals further insight into the type of autobiographical information HSAM is restricted to. Experiment IV builds upon neuroanatomical findings of experiment I and furthers our understanding of possible neural underpinnings of HSAM; Resting-state functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (i.e. regions involved in autobiographical recollection) and circuitry involved in the pathophysiology of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are observed. Overall, this work provides a first step towards understanding the bases of HSAM. By studying Olympians of human recall, HSAM has provided a new opportunity to better understand human memory capacity and the way in which autobiographical memory functions.

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