Author Archives: Denissa Cioraneanu

Flashbulb Memories

Flashbulb Memories

From the past couple of lessons, the one thing that stuck out to me the most was the segment on flashbulb memories. As soon as I read the definition, a wave of memories came back to me, two in particular, as being life changing: the death of my father and the birth of my sister, the worst day of my life and the most amazing day of my life. While I don’t particularly wish to remember the first one, the birth of my sister was an amazing event that I will never ever forget. I remember every single detail of that day, from what I was wearing to how I felt. Also, my sister makes me tell her every now and then because she likes the story, another way to make sure that I never forget, not like I ever could.

A flashbulb memory is defined as a vividly detailed memory of the circumstances under which one first learned of a surprising, consequential, emotionally involving event (Kihlstrom, 2013). It is a memory that is stored on one occasion and retained for a lifetime. What makes these memories different than all of the other memories that are stored in our mind is the emotional charge behind it. The link between memory and emotion caused by a flashbulb memory is what gives us the ability to recall the details of the event. The emotional process involves the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system, located near the hippocampus (Goldstein, 2011), which is important for the emotional content of new memories. However, like with all memory, except eidetic memory of course, I found it interesting that even flashbulb memories, no matter how traumatic or wonderful or shocking they may have been are still flawed. The memories are not actually as accurate as we think that they are and the gaps still get filled in by consulting with peers. Take an event such as 9/11, according to researchers, even having been there and experienced it first hand, a lot of the memories are filled in by what you read in the news or saw on TV following the event, but the forgetting curve and the recall curve is far less affected by time than is the case for other types of memories (Markham, 2014).

With all of that said, looking back I still feel as though I remember every moment, every detail of August 3, 2000. From the moment my father called me to tell me that my mom was in labor, to the car ride over to the hospital, to the waiting, and waiting, and finally the nurse bringing out my little sister and getting to see her for the first time. I remember every detail of her, every wrinkle, every hair on her head, I remember like it was yesterday and I know that details like that cannot be made up or filled in by anyone else. The first time that I met my sister was the happiest day of my life, and it is not a memory that will soon be forgotten.


Kihlstrom, J. (2013). Flashbulb Memories. University of California Berkley. Retrieved from

Goldstein, B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research and everyday experience (3rd edition). Wadsworth, Inc.

Markham, A. (2014). Flashbulb Memory. University of Illinois at Chicago. Retrieved from:

Episodic Versus Semantic Memory

Episodic Versus Semantic Memory

There were a lot of interesting topics that we went over these past few lessons, however, one in particular stuck out to me more than the rest. This was the section on episodic memory and semantic memory, and I think what I found the most interesting was where Tulving mentioned the idea of mental time travel. When I think of time travel I think of jumping into a weird contraption and zooming to the future or somewhere in the past, but I never realized that I am essentially doing the same thing when I look back on my life thus far and access these memories that I have stored away. Now, the difference between episodic memories and sematic memories is that episodic memories represent our memory of experiences and specific events in time in a serial form, from which we can reconstruct the actual events that took place at any given point in our lives. Semantic memories on the other hand, is a more structured record of facts, meanings, concepts and knowledge about the external world that we have acquired (Mastin, 2010). With that said, I think when it comes to memory, episodic memories are much more powerful and last much longer than semantic memories do.

Before we can talk about episodic and semantic memory, we have to first understand what memory actually is. Memory is defined as our ability to encode, store, retain and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain (Mastin, 2010). It can be thought of in general terms as the use of past experience to affect or influence current behavior. Basically, it is the sum of all that we remember, and we use these past thoughts to influence our decisions in the present and in the future. Take for example a hot stove, when you were a child you might have burned yourself on a hot stove and it hurt, but you never touched it again, because you remembered what it felt like the first time you did. It is with these life experiences, these memories, that we learn from life and avoid making the same mistake twice. In more physiological or neurological terms, all that memories actually are is a set of encoded neural connections in the brain. It is the re-creation or reconstruction of past experiences by the synchronous firing of neurons that were involved in the original experience (Mastin, 2010). Pretty simple huh?

Now that we understand what memory actually is we can talk about episodic versus semantic memory and why I feel that one is better than the other. Well, not necessarily better, but more useful in the long run. According to our text, episodic memories includes memories for events in which we participated, essentially you can remember exactly when it occurred and the feelings that were associated with the memory and therefore can recall the exact time that we encoded the memory. Take for example a very personal memory of mine that will haunt me for my entire life, the day my mother called to tell me that my father had died. I will never forget what I was wearing, what I was watching (the exact episode), what the weather was like, the atmosphere, the sounds of my apartment, the time of day, the smell that lingered in the air, the kind of tea that I was making and the color nail polish I was wearing and so on. Every single detail of that day will forever be engraved in my brain, but ask me what I was wearing the day after and I can’t even begin to tell you or what I had for breakfast 2 weeks ago, I have no idea. What makes episodic memories so special and so vivid is because they are basically the memories of autobiographical events, you can literally see yourself as an actor in these events, and the emotional charge and the entire context surrounding an even is usually part of the memory, not just the bare facts of the event itself (Mastin, 2010).

Semantic memories are different than episodic memories in that it’s just simply memory recall, there is nothing special about it. Semantic memories are just facts and knowledge that we have about the world, there is no mental time travel involved. Semantic memories include things like vocabulary, mathematics, recalling state capitals, and things of that nature. For example, I know how to drive a car, sadly I can’t remember the learning process, it might have been an episodic memory at one time, but it is so insignificant now, it is just something that almost runs on autopilot. I can also tell you that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and a ton of other information that I can recite should anyone ask. The difference here though is that I can’t remember the exact moment that I learned any of this. The book goes on to say that semantic memory is not something you will recall learning unless it is a pretty memorable learning experience, and that is the difference between episodic memory and semantic memory, whether or not we can remember the learning experience (Goldstein, 2011).

All in all, it is pretty clear to see why I think that episodic memory is stronger than semantic memory. It has to do with the specific type off autobiographical memory known as a flashbulb memory, which is a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid snapshot of a moment or circumstance in which surprising, or consequential or anything that is emotionally arousing was learned. These memories will tend to be much more resistant to forgetting mainly due to the strong emotions that are typically associated with them. Reading about it in a textbook and being there first hand are two completely different things. Take the tragedy that unfolded on 9/11, I’m sure being in New York at the time is something that people will not forget, however, reading about it in the newspaper might not arouse the same kind of memories. It is this emotional charge that makes these episodic memories unforgettable and I think that is what sets them apart and makes them a lot more special than semantic memories.



Mastin, L. (2010). Episodic & Semantic Memory. The Human Memory. Retrieved from

Goldstein, B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting mind, research and everyday experience (3rd edition). Wadsworth, Inc.

Study While You Sleep

Measuring the Brain

With all of the topics that we have read in the course so far, there is one in particular that stands out to me as being incredibly interesting. That topic came in lesson two and it had to do with “measuring the mind”. For the longest time scientists thought that you could never study the brain, and that a person has to be dead in order for them to open them up and take a look inside. However, in 1924, Hans Berger changed that by introducing the electroencephalography and voila, the human brain came to life, even as the person was sitting there very much alive. Then there were the PET Scans, MRI’s and a multitude of other ways to take a look around a person’s mind. However, what happens when the person is not active, when they are asleep for example? Does the mind still process information or does it also take a siesta along with the rest of the body? The article that I found is called “To sleep, perchance to study: New research shows how brain learns while dozing”, and I found it particularly interesting because it answers that very question.

Every person in the world would like to go to bed, get a great night sleep and wake up in the morning having learned some new information. As a student I know I would. I would sure beat all of those late night study sessions with 2 hours of sleep. Scientists are now saying that it might actually be possible. This article states that while we are busy sleeping our brain does not sleep too, instead it stays up and is busy organizing and storing memories of events. “During sleep people are far from being totally shut down from the environment, the continue performing what they were doing before falling asleep and this can involve understanding the meaning of what is being said around them” is what Professor Sid Kouider said about the human brain and function. The experiment that was conducted included 18 volunteers which were outfitted with scalp sensors to detect brain waves. While they were awake the volunteers listened to a list that contained two categories of words: animals and objects. They were asked to push a button with their left hand for animal and right for object. The researchers monitored brain activity to determine which nerve cells were sparking during the activity. This was no surprise since the brain was awake and active for it to be responsive to the stimuli, however what happened next was amazing. The participants were taken into a dark room where the same experiment was conducted, only this time they were able to fall asleep should they choose. After the participants fell asleep, another list of animals and objects was read aloud to them, and the same parts of the brain that lit up before while they were awake and actively participating were the same ones that lit up now!

Professor Ken Pallar, a professor of psychology and the director of cognitive neuroscience program at Northwestern University said that these new findings show that people can indeed use their brains while sleeping. Pallar then proceeded to conduct an experiment of his own that involved music. He asked participants to learn a simple melody. Then the melody was played quietly for one half of the group while they slept and not for the other. It was no surprise that the group who heard the melody remembered it better than those who did not. However, all this great news and extra hours of sleep may come at a cost. According to Dr. Alon Avidan, a professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles and the director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, the brain has too many tasks to do already when you are asleep. It has important functions that it needs to keep up with and if you try to overload it with other tasks while you sleep you may be doing more bad then good to yourself. If the brain does not do what it is designed to do during sleep, then sleep might not end up being that great and you might end up feeling more tired than you did before.

Like most good things in life, if they seem too good to be true, then they probably are. The amount of information that we have learned about the brain in the last six decades has been tremendous. Technology that was created such as the electroencephalograph, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and magnetic resonance imaging has given science a firsthand look at how the brain works. It has allowed researchers to be able to examine normal and impaired brain functions using noninvasive means. The images we have been able to see and monitor have saved countless number of lives and because of the techniques that we continue to develop in order to study the human brain we will be able to save countless more. Not only that, but we will be able to unlock the mysterious secrets our brain holds and continue to advance as a species, and that is pretty cool.



Carroll, L. (2011). To sleep, perchance to study: New research shows how brain learns while dozing. Today Health. Retrieved from

Dr. Ford. Lesson 2. Cognitive Psychology.