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4/2/09

Jill Price: The Woman Who Can't Forget

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In an old vaudeville routine, a comedian asks his straight man, "Who was the lady you were with at 7:18 pm on the night of July 23, 1903?" to which the straight man scratches his head, looks puzzled at the audience, then answers, "That was no lady. That was my wife."

The audience laughed partly because of the improbability of remembering specifics on an exact date and time, and partly because of the unexpected reply.

Maybe Jill Price would not know what happened at an exact time but she can recall any day and she can remember it. Unlike vaudeville audiences, people don't laugh at all.  They are astounded by her feats of memory.  She can recite details of the days of her life since she was fourteen years old, be they sad or happy. The details can be what she had for dinner or saw on the TV.
Examined by MRI, she was found to have areas of her brain three times larger than other women her age. There is a fancy name for her condition, hyperthymestic syndrome. Another term for her situation is super-autobiographical memory. She has an outstanding memory. Interestingly, her enlarged brain areas are also associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). She considers her condition both a curse and a blessing. She can recall the times when she was at forks in the road, and she can wish she had made another choice than the one she followed. Short of a lobotomy, she says, nothing can be done about her brain.



Her book, The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science, can be found here.
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