Aphantasia and SDAM

Aphantasia appears to overlap with this memory condition. Brian Levine joins the Founder of Aphantasia Network, Tom Ebeyer for a live Ask Me Anything event to answer questions on Aphantasia and SDAM.
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Aphantasia and SDAM with Brian Levine

Aphantasia is the inability to visualize. SDAM stands for Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory and is often characterized by a lifelong inability to recollect or re-experience past personal events vividly.

Visualization and mental imagery has long been described as having a fundamental role in episodic memories, and some early investigative research shows an overlap between Aphantasia and SDAM. Current estimates are that ~51% of people with SDAM also have visual Aphantasia, but this overlap is still being investigated.

Brian Levine is a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, a professor in the Departments of Psychology and Medicine (Neurology) at the University of Toronto, and a clinical neuropsychologist. He leads The Levine Lab, which researchs the function and dysfunction of large-scale neural systems expressed in complex human behaviours, including episodic and autobiographical memory and executive functioning. He studies syndromes in patients with traumatic brain injury, focal brain lesions due to strokes and tumors, dementia, and psychiatric disorders, as well as healthy younger and older adults. He is best known for his pioneering work around SDAM, or Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory.

Levine joins Aphantasia Network for a live Ask Me Anything member event to answer some of our community’s questions on Aphantasia and SDAM.


0:01 Introduction to Brian Levine and the discovery of SDAM

3:46 Overlap between Aphantasia and SDAM

6:43 Where are the memories if you can’t access them?

9:34 The difference between the memory of visualizer vs non-visualizers

17:14 Can you trigger a memory?

20:49 Are Visualizers more suggestible to false memories?

22:13 For someone with multisensory aphantasia but not SDAM, how is autobiographical memory experienced?

26:55 Do people with poor memory for sensory details tend to have great memories for abstract concepts instead?

34:35 Are there treatments on the horizon for SDAM? Could they help aphantasia as well?

36:42 Elaborate on the four factors impacting memory strength

40:35 What are the surprising ways SDAM impacts a person’s life

42:36 Does SDAM have any benefits to any specific jobs?

43:16 Hoes does SDAM impact getting over trauma?

47:16 Are there any standout differences between the brains of people with SDAM and those without?

52:06 SDAM and link to environmental factors

54:50 Any link between SDAM and other neurodiversities (ADHD or Autism)?

56:14 Genetic correlates to SDAM

57:54 Do people with Aphantasia and SDAM have stronger emotional reactions to events

Palombo, D. J., Alain, C., Söderlund, H., Khuu, W., & Levine, B. (2015). Severely deficient autobiographical memory (SDAM) in healthy adults: A new mnemonic syndrome. Neuropsychologia, 72, 105–118. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.04.012
Palombo, D. J., Williams, L. J., Abdi, H., & Levine, B. (2013). The survey of autobiographical memory (SAM): a novel measure of trait mnemonics in everyday life. Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 49(6), 1526–1540. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2012.08.023