H. M. (Henry Molaison) had almost no memory for his past life after having experimental brain surgery in 1953. Suzanne Corkin summarized 55 years of research on H. M. in her book Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H. M. Kristi Multhaup's review of this book presents it as not only a description of good science, but also a good story that portrays H. M. as a person with an interesting life, although it is a life he cannot recall.
What must it be like to have this extremely limited memory? Multhaup drew this quotation from the book:
"mentally I'm uncomfortable to be so much trouble to everybody—not to remember.…And I keep debating with myself if I said anything that I shouldn't have, or done something that I shouldn't have done" (p. 106).Multhaup notes that reading in the book of his death and the immediate harvesting of his brain would be "challenging" for some readers.
So this is a good, albeit sad, story, but it is also a story of good science because H. M.'s case can be placed in the context of the experimental memory literature, where it contributed to, for example, a multiple-store view of memory. "The book highlights what can be gained from a thoroughly documented case study."
What other case studies have made a similar contribution to psychological science? For me, the one that first comes to mind is Paul Broca's 19th-century study of Tan, which eventually led to the description of Broca's area in the brain for speech. Can readers come up with some others?
By Kristi S. Multhaup
PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(39)