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Yale Executive MPH student studies cause of 'Swiftie Amnesia'

November 30, 2023
by Jane E. Dee

Our memories just aren’t built to be like iPhones where you take a recording of something and it’s a perfect fidelity recording straight through.

Nathan Carroll

Dr. Nathan Carroll, DO, a second-year student in the Yale School of Public Health’s Executive MPH program, is a fan of pop star Taylor Swift – although he is not quite a Swiftie.

Still, Carroll shared in the excitement around Swift’s The Eras Tour when it arrived in New Jersey where, in addition to being a Yale EMPH student, he is an associate chief resident psychiatrist at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Soon, he was hearing reports of memory gaps among concertgoers.

The Eras Tour is a journey through the pop star’s musical eras, featuring songs from each of Swift’s 10 studio albums. Carroll describes it as “a three-hour concert of non-stop excitement.” Looking to find a likely cause of the post-concert amnesia, he and his colleagues searched the medical literature, where they hit upon a phenomenon called Transient Global Amnesia (TGA).

Amnesia in young people is extremely rare, Carroll said. Still, TGA’s symptoms, including total memory gaps that last for a short period time, were similar to what concertgoers were reporting. Although the fans who had posted about their experiences online expressed distress at this post-concert amnesia, Carroll stressed that the memories do come back.

“Reports of it happening at concerts are new,” Carroll said. “It also happens at weddings with people not remembering parts of their wedding, and at sporting events.”

Carroll is the first author of the study, “Here And Then Swiftly Gone: Taylor Swift-Induced Global Transient Amnesia - A Literature Review and Exploratory Hypothesis.”

He said TGA is caused by a combination of factors, including one’s emotional excitement during the event. “You get so excited, you get swept away,” he said. “The hippocampus [the part of our brains where memories are stored and processed] registers a high level of excitement and stops working as well as it should,” Carroll said.

“We’re also very social creatures. When we see people getting excited around us, it has an effect on us,” he added.

Carroll and his team identified potential risk factors of TGA, including environmental factors such as noise and the size of the crowd. To avoid TGA, Carroll recommends being mindful of your excitement levels, although he concedes that doing so might defeat some of the fun of being at the concert.

“Our memories just aren’t built to be like iPhones where you take a recording of something and it’s a perfect fidelity recording straight through,” Carroll said. “Our memories are spotty. Each day there are gaps in our memories. You can’t track every 24 hours each day.”

Carroll was planning to watch the Eras Tour when it arrived in theaters this past October. And Swift recently announced plans to release the concert film to stream on demand beginning December 13.

“TGA is less likely to happen in movie theaters,” said Carroll, reassuringly.

Submitted by Jane E. Dee on November 30, 2023