Flashbulb Memories


We have all forgotten something at some point and time in our lives, some more than others. When tragic events happen, or something emotionally arousing, we seem to remember our feelings from that point and time in our lives. But there is some controversy on how much can we trust our memories. A multitude of studies have shown that our memory is not like a video camera, capturing everything play by play, but that it can change over time. Tragic events such as the Challenger (space shuttle) explosion, assassination of JFK and September 11th have impacted people's lives, but a few years after these events have occurred, peoples stories have changed on what they were doing and how they were feeling. Flashbulb memories deteriorate over time just like everyday memories. The only difference is that flashbulb memories come with great vividness and confidence although they can be very inaccurate. It has been documented that people who were involved in a flashbulb event have more accurate recollections compared to people that who were not involved in the event. Also, younger adults can form flashbulb memories more readily than older adults. Studies have also shown that flashbulb memories can also be created from non-surprising events. So how much can we actually rely on our memory?



When reading about memory in the book, I found it fascinating how much the stories changed of those who recalled the Challenger explosion. I knew that to some degree our memories change over time because we gradually forget details, but I never knew how drastically other factors can change our memories!

To me, it seems a little disturbing that memories might change over time. I mean, we all know that our memories aren't perfect, and that fact is normal. But, in a way, because our experiences in life define who we are, our memories of our experiences must influence us, too. That those memories of our experiences are subject to change seems almost like we could be living in a false reality. I guess all we can do is live life the best that we can, even if we know that some of our memories aren't completely accurate.

It's interesting how people who were involved in the event do remember much better than people that weren't. I always thought it was the complete opposite. I thought that the people who were involved in a traumatic event would block out details and NOT remember things as accurately. Our memories can really be a scary thing sometimes. Great post!

When I was in third grade, I experienced a sort of "delayed" flashbulb memory. I was at the Daytona 500 and one of the racers (Dale Earnhardt) crashed on the last lap near my seat. It didn't seem bad at first, but once I got back to my hotel that night, we found out that he had actually been killed. Now when I recollect it, I can remember almost every part of it very easily, although some of my memories may be skewed now as you described.

I really enjoyed reading about memory as well. I especially liked how our memory can be distorted or decay over time. Misinformation given to us, and we make it real, can be a deadly event in some scenarios; like how we read about the police lineups and murder cases. People can be sent away, or put to death because of their “flashbulb memory”.

I think the most interesting thing about flashbulb memories is their vividness. Everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 happened, very clearly, but I wonder how many people remember a false picture of what happened. There is definitely a misconception that tragic events trigger later vivid recollection, when that really isn't the case. It causes us to think our memories are more vivid, but the actual events may differ from our memories.

For me, I was too young to remember 9/11. Therefor, I have asked others about it, and they remember little bits of the day. My mother doesn't remember the actual hearing of 9/11, just the relief of being able to see her kids (she was coincidentally picking my brother and I up for an appointment). I think what makes a memory flashbulb material is the emotional impact they make, how deep it makes you realize things. 9/11 was a terrible event, but my mom was thinking about the human connections that were now lost, and how she wanted to protect her relationships. I think those core feelings/ideas leave an outline and then later we may fill it in, making it sometimes inaccurate.

It's definitely a little unsettling that we can't always trust our own minds. On top of questioning others we have to question ourselves now, too? I think after reading the chapter, I understand why people keep journals of their important events in their lives. In such a way, we can preserve our true memories and avoid the flashbulb experience, at least partially.

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This page contains a single entry by walte507 published on March 5, 2012 3:31 PM.

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