Created By: KevinKlawitter on February 17, 2013 Last Edited By: jormis29 on October 12, 2015

No Long Term Memory

A character can\'t process short term memory into long term memories

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Trope
Most media portrayals of amnesia tend to be focused on Retrograde Amnesia (that is, loss of memories already in your brain) and usually rather unrealistically at that. There is, however, another form of amnesia called Anterograde amnesia, defined as the inability to accumulate new memories. People who suffer from this tend to be unable to remember new facts ("declarative memory") but are still able to remember and perform basic tasks ("procedural memory").

One of the reasons Anterograde amnesia isn't portrayed as often as Retrograde amnesia in media (aside from the fact that it isn't as useful as a plot device) is that the exact cause and nature is not well known, nor are the symptoms very consistent from case to case. Causes range (typically) from traumatic brain injury to drug overdoses to severe encephalitis.

People who suffer from Anterograde amnesia who live on their own often have to write notes constantly in addition to living by constant and consistent patterns in order to maintain a more-or-less normal life. Sometimes, however, it can be severe or debilitating enough to require institutionalization.

Compare and contrast Laser-Guided Amnesia. See also No Object Permanence.


Examples:

Film
  • Memento is probably the most famous film example, where main character Leonard is a former insurance investigator who is seeking out the man who killed his wife and injured him (causing his memory loss in the first place), using tattoos, polaroid pictures, and other methods to leave himself clues. Notably, the film plays in reverse chronological order, which puts the audience in the same state of confusion as Leonard.
  • The Lookout is another notable film example, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a former high school hockey star who was severely injured in a car crash and now suffers from short-term memory loss and bad social skills, and has to carry around a notebook in order to remember people's names and basic information. Eventually, he gets roped into a heist scheme at the bank where he works (as a janitor) by criminals who think they can manipulate and exploit his condition.
  • In 50 First Dates Drew Barrymore plays a woman who suffered a severe head injury and can no longer transfer short-term memories into long-term ones. Unlike many other examples, though, the entire city where she lives decides to play along and pretend every day is the day she was injured. This doesn't stop her from falling in love with Adam Sandler, of course.

Literature
  • Piers Anthony's novel Mute. Knot has a mutant power that causes this in others. Whenever he meets someone, their experience with him is not transferred to their long-term memory, so they only remember him as long as he's present. Once he leaves, they lose all memory of him a few seconds later when their short-term memory is emptied.

Live-Action TV
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the god Glorificus has an enchantment such that people can't remember that she shares her body with Ben even if they discover it. A few seconds later it'll be gone. Spike, since he's a vampire and thus not technically human, is immune.
  • You can't remember The Silence in Doctor Who if you're not looking at them. This extends to pictures.
  • My Name Is Earl: The person on Earl's list that he makes amends to in the "Sweet Johnny" episode is a stuntman who, due to a stunt gone wrong giving him brain damage, hasn't had a new memory in several years. Every day he thinks it's the day he's going to do his stunt; and no matter how many times Earl makes up for stealing the man's girlfriend, the next day he has to do it all over again.
  • A recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live was "Mr. Short-Term Memory," a purposely bad sitcom starring Tom Hanks. Here he is on a date:
    Waiter: Here are your menus. Our Special this evening is Medallions of Veal smothered in a wine and mushroom sauce.
    Mr. Short-Term Memory: (examines menu) Is there a Special tonight?
    Waiter: I just told you the Special: Medallions of Veal..
    Mr. Short-Term Memory: Look, just tell me about the Special, please? I don't want to hear all this babbling about Medallions of Veal - I don't even see it on the menu!
    Waiter: I'm.. sorry, Sir.. there are no Specials.
    Mr. Short-Term Memory: Well.. okay. I'll have the Poached Salmon.
    Date: I'll have the same.
    Mr. Short-Term Memory: Hey! Poached Salmon! I'll have that! (Waiter tries to take the menu) Excuse me, but I think we're going to need these menus to order the food!
    Waiter: takes menu Uh.. I'll get you a fresh one. (leaves)
    Mr. Short-Term Memory: Oh. Wow. Classy place. I hope they have Poached Salmon!

Western Animation
  • Dory from Finding Nemo. At one point, she treats the fact that she can recall something that happened just a few seconds ago as a great achievement, and is even more astonished that she can recall it a second time.
    "It runs in my family. Well, at least I think it does. Hmm, where are they?"


Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • February 18, 2013
    randomsurfer
    • My Name Is Earl: one of the people on Earl's list is a stuntman who, due to a stunt gone wrong giving him brain damage, hasn't had a new memory in several years. Every day he thinks it's the day he's going to do his stunt; and no matter how many times Earl makes up for stealing the man's girlfriend, the next day he has to do it all over again.
    • A recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live was "Mr. Short-Term Memory," a purposely bad sitcom starring Tom Hanks. Here he is on a date:
      Waiter: Here are your menus. Our Special this evening is Medallions of Veal smothered in a wine and mushroom sauce.
      Mr. Short-Term Memory: examines menu Is there a Special tonight?
      Waiter: I just told you the Special: Medallions of Veal..
      Mr. Short-Term Memory: Look, just tell me about the Special, please? I don't want to hear all this babbling about Medallions of Veal - I don't even see it on the menu!
      Waiter: I'm.. sorry, Sir.. there are no Specials.
      Mr. Short-Term Memory: Well.. okay. I'll have the Poached Salmon.
      Date: I'll have the same.
      Mr. Short-Term Memory: Hey! Poached Salmon! I'll have that! Waiter tries to take the menu Excuse me, but I think we're going to need these menus to order the food!
      Waiter: takes menu Uh.. I'll get you a fresh one. leaves
      Mr. Short-Term Memory: Oh. Wow. Classy place. I hope they have Poached Salmon!
  • February 18, 2013
    TonyG
    Perhaps the best known representation of anterograde amnesia is Dory from Finding Nemo. "It runs in my family. Well, at least I think it does. Hmm, where are they?" Later on, she treats the fact that she can recall something that happened just a few seconds ago as a great achievement, and is even more astonished that she can recall it a second time.
  • February 19, 2013
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Piers Anthony's novel Mute. Knot has a mutant power that causes this in others. Whenever he meets someone, their experience with him is not transferred to their long-term memory, so they only remember him as long as he's present. Once he leaves, they lose all memory of him a few seconds later when their short-term memory is emptied.
  • February 19, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^The Silence in Doctor Who are similar; you can't remember them if you're not looking at them. This extends to pictures of them.

    Also in Buffy The Vampire Slayer the god Glorificus has an enchantment such that humans can't remember that she shares her body with Ben even if they discover it. A few seconds later it'll be gone. Spike, since he's a vampire and thus techically not human, is immune.
  • February 19, 2013
    KevinKlawitter
    Considering the context of some of these examples, should I maybe change the title to "Short Term Memory Loss"?
  • March 7, 2013
    KevinKlawitter
  • January 20, 2015
    jormis29
    Comic Books
  • January 20, 2015
    jormis29
    • Alphas: Kat has the Alpha ability to copy and master any skill perfectly with minutes of observing it. Her ability comes with the downside of any memories she makes fading within a month of being created though she retains the skills that she has learnt.
  • January 20, 2015
    randomsurfer
    Coincidentally, I'm having a hard time remembering which Police Procedural I saw the following example on. (EDIT: Found it and edited accordingly.)

    • In The Mentalist episode "Red White and Blue" the Victim Of The Week is killed and an eyewitness calls it in. However, the witness in question is a veteran suffering with PTSD which makes it hard for him to create new memories. After he calls the crime in he wanders off, having forgoten about everything he saw and that he had just called the police.
  • February 2, 2015
    jormis29
    • Examples section formatting
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Added the word Examples:
      • Namespaced and italicized work names.
      • Spelling, techically —> technically
  • February 2, 2015
    Gideoncrawle
    The Saturday Night Live sketch transcript is far too long for an example quote. The example needs a concise description, such as:

    • A recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live is the spoof sitcom, "Mr. Short Term Memory", the title character being called that because he has none. He is unable to retain any fact for more than a few seconds.

    After launch, the full text of the SNL passage can (and probably should) go on the Quotes subpage.
  • February 3, 2015
    LionessSabio
    • In Real Life, damage to or removal of the hippocampus will cause this. H.M., a man who had his hippocampus removed to stop life-threatening seizures, was a famous example.
  • February 3, 2015
    NemuruMaeNi
    Without proper context from me, there is Chihiro, a heroine revealed to have anterograde amnesia, in Efa Fairy Tale Of The Two.

    • Kaori the heroine of One Week Friends is suffering from an affliction that disperses specifically all of her memories of friends she may have made in the course of a week. The plot has a male classmate try to have a lasting relationship with her regardless.
  • February 3, 2015
    zarpaulus
    Webcomics
    • In one arc of Freefall Florence is injected with a drug that paralyzes her hippocampus for 18 hours, giving her anterograde amnesia until it wears off. Unfortunately she starts wandering around unable to remember what she was doing five minutes ago, she tries using sticky notes.
  • February 3, 2015
    Gideoncrawle
    Your first Fan Works example:

  • October 11, 2015
    jormis29
    • Remember Sunday is a Made For TV Movie about a lonely waitress falls in love with a jewelry store clerk who lost his short-term memory loss due to a brain aneurysm and the troubles their relationship faces when he forgets her each time he fall asleep.
  • October 11, 2015
    jormis29
    Just a thought, I know of a few examples of people with powers like The Silence from Doctor Who and Knot from Mute ie memories of them get erased once they are no longer interacting with them, sort of a supernatural Forgettable Character. I think it might be wroth it's oen trope but I cannot think of a name for it.

    Any opinions?
  • October 11, 2015
    Koveras
    • Played For Laughs in Acquisitions Incorporated: Mike often justifies not recalling the in-game events of previous sessions (which, granted, occur only once or twice a year) with his character Jim Darkmagic having almost no long-term memory in-universe.
  • October 12, 2015
    Arivne
    ^^ We have that under No Object Permanence and Laser Guided Amnesia.
  • October 12, 2015
    DAN004
    Often a trait for The Ditz.
    • Blaz Blue: Taokaka the Cat Girl ie characterized as someone who would forget a new information given to her mere minutes after she listened to it.
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