The number of persons known to science who can remember virtually every day of their lives grew from six to more than 50 after Lesley Stahl featured these remarkable people in a 60 Minutes story three years ago. Stahl follows up by interviewing some of the dozens who contacted scientists after seeing the segment, including the first child scientists have seen with the ability. Stahl's story, including an interview with actress Marilu Henner, the most famous person with super memory, will be broadcast Sunday, Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
The ability scientists call Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory allows people to remember what they did, what day of the week it was -- oftentimes what they wore or ate -- on nearly every day of their lives. Scientists say these people remember days from their distant past the way the rest of us remember yesterday.
Jake Hausler, a 10-year-old boy from St. Louis, had extraordinary memory powers ever since he was little, his family recalls. "We'd be driving in the car and we'd be talking about a past event and he would say, 'Oh, that was a Tuesday,'" says his mother, Sari. When they heard about the 60 Minutes story that aired Dec. 19, 2010, they realized Jake was just like the people featured. They contacted Dr. James McGaugh at the University of California Irvine, the scientist studying the phenomenon who was featured in Stahl's story. He says seeing this ability in a child for the first time is an exciting scientific development.
Once McGaugh's team confirmed Jake had superior autobiographical memory, they put him in an MRI scanner to look at his brain. Similar scans of the adult subjects are showing a more active pathway between the front and back of the brain, which may partially explain why they remember so much.
"...The reason that they can do that, in part, might be because the different parts of the brain have greater access to each other. And so that is exciting. And we're going to have to explore that in more detail," McGaugh tells Stahl.
Young Jake meets several of the adult subjects, including Henner, and nods in agreement as he recognizes all the recollection powers they possess. Louise Owen, who was featured in the original story, tells Jake, "I think it's like having a superpower...you can be normal...you can be Clark Kent," she says. "When you really need to fly, you can totally fly and it's awesome." And he acknowledges, like the others, that remembering so much has its downsides -- vivid memories of both the good and the bad.
Asked how he feels about having this "super power," Jake replies, "I'm glad."