Is Marilu Henner's Strange Ability Really Autism?

Amy Kuras

Every family has that person ... the one who remembers everything, even things the rest of the group would prefer that they not. "Oh, yes, we got that ornament Christmas 1993! That's the year you hated all your presents and cried and we were so mad at you!" So annoying (and I say this being That One in my own family). Or, we get mad at our spouse for not remembering the exact day of our first date or the day we got engaged, because we do.

But even the most accurate memory recorder has nothing on actress Marilu Henner. Yes, that Marilu Henner, the actress probably best known for her role on the awesomely funny 1980s TV show Taxi.

She's got an ability known as superior autobiographical memory, which means she can remember each day of her life like it was yesterday. And while it's rare, she's not the only one.

Ask people with this ability anything about a historical event or date in the past, and they'll remember it clearly ... not just the highlights of their own lives like Christmases and birthdays, but non-personal things like what date, exactly, the Oscars were on in 1986 or what disaster happened on March 24, 1989. And when it comes to personal milestones, they can remember everything in great detail.

60 Minutes gathered a bunch of people with superior autobiographical memory for a story this past week, and how it came about was kind of funny. Lesley Stahl's producer mentioned it to her as a story idea, and Stahl said, "Oh no, my friend Marilu Henner is like that and she's the only one." As it turns out, she isn't. It's pretty rare, but not unique.

Some scientists believe it might have some connection to Asperger's syndrome, since people with Asperger's tend to have a phenomenal ability to remember detail. None of the people who have this show any other Asperger's signs, though.

On the one hand, this might be not a lot of fun to have ... I'm pretty glad I don't remember every day of junior high, for example. On the other, how cool would it be to somehow acquire it now ... to get a  pause and rewind button, like a DVR for your life. To be able to remember clearly what a cute little bald-headed girl my daughter was or exactly how my son's baby smile looked would be wonderful. I think most moms would love this ability, to fill in the gaps that pictures and videos can't.

Would you want to be able to remember every detail of your life?


Image via Alan Light/Flickr

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