Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Can Enhance Memory

(p. C1) Sharon remembers the first day it happened, in 1952. She was 5 years old and blindfolded while her friends ran around her, laughing, trying not to be caught in a game of blindman’s bluff. But when she whipped off the scarf, panic set in. The house, the street, even the mountains were in the wrong place. She was totally disoriented.
. . .
She eventually learned she had an unusual condition called developmental topographical disorientation disorder, or DTD.
. . .
(p. C2) Not all brain disorders are as detrimental as DTD. Bob, a TV producer from Los Angeles, remembers every day of his life as if it happened yesterday. His perfect memory is a gift, he says: “I don’t have to mourn people after they’ve passed away because my memory of them is so clear.”
The condition was discovered by James McGaugh at the University of California, Irvine, in 2001, after he received a peculiar email from a woman named Jill. “Since I was 11 I have had this unbelievable ability to recall my past,” she said. “When I see a date…I go back to that day and remember where I was, what I was doing, what day it fell on and on and on.”
. . .
A decade later, Dr. McGaugh had a group of around 50 people with HSAM. By scanning their brains while they carried out memory tasks, he discovered that they had an enlarged caudate nucleus and putamen–two areas implicated in obsessive compulsive disorder. Dr. McGaugh concluded that their extraordinary powers of memory are rooted not in their ability to form memories, but in an unconscious rehearsal of their past. They accidentally strengthen their memories by habitually recalling and reflecting upon them–“a unique form of OCD,” he says.

For the full essay, see:
Helen Thomson. “‘Lessons From STRANGE BRAINS.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 30, 2018): C1-C2.
(Note: ellipses between quoted passages, added; ellipsis internal to a paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the essay has the date June 29, 2018, and has the title “Strange Stories of Extraordinary Brains–and What We Can Learn From Them.”)

Thomson’s essay is closely related to her book:
Thomson, Helen. Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey through the World’s Strangest Brains. New York: Ecco, 2018.

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