Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing | Aphantasia

The upside of SDAM

I came across the paragraph quoted below while I was trying to find out more about the role played by a rewards system (and, by extension, dopamine) in habit formation. I was wondering if SDAM might affect one’s ability to recognize or remember the feelings associated with rewards, so I Googled “severely deficient autobiographical memory” and “dopamine”. What I found was not at all what I was expecting. It was this article from Nature, suggesting that dopamine is of vital importance to our ability to forget.

That’s an interesting topic that I may well come back to in a future post. But for now, I just want to note this paragraph, which is of tangential relevance to the main point of the article, and to the topic of my search, but is of obvious interest to anyone who has SDAM:

Those with severely deficient autobiographical memory (SDAM), however, are unable to vividly recall specific events in their lives. As a result, they also have trouble imagining what might happen in the future. Yet in Levine’s experience, people with SDAM tend to do particularly well in jobs that require abstract thinking — probably because they are not weighed down by the nitty-gritty. “We think SDAM people, through a lifetime of practice of not having episodic memory, have an ability to cut across episodes,” Levine says. “They’re good at solving problems.”

Since discovering that I have SDAM, I’ve been inclined to think of it as a disadvantage, though a mild one. I mean, when the term begins “severely deficient …” it kind of nudges you in that direction, don’t you think? But it’s important to recognize that people who have SDAM have strengths as well as weaknesses in comparison with people with normal episodic memories. We tend to be good at abstract thought — something I’ve long recognized about myself, before I ever suspected that I have SDAM — and at avoiding getting caught up in the details of episodic memories.

I’ve been regularly saying to myself since I found out that I have aphantasia and SDAM that I need to learn to “play to my strengths”. Perhaps I haven’t had a clear enough idea of what those strengths are.

Posted by Art on 10-Jan-2021.