Gone in a Flash

A flashbulb memory is a vivid, enduring memory for how one learned about a surprising or a shocking event. It involves memory for the source of event information, as opposed to only a memory for the event itself. The brain regions involved with flashbulb memories are unknown. (Davidson, 2005)

According to the APA, the idea of a flashbulb memory was first proposed in 1977 by psychologists Roger Brown, PhD, and James Kulik, PhD. They believed that these memories become so emotionally important to us that they are stored as vividly and accurately as a photo. Today’s research however has shown that these memories are not as accurate but yet still very clear and vivid. (Law, 2011)

One of the most widely known events that would relate to this topic would be the horrific moment when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Too many people can describe that moment whether they were in New York City or across the country, many of us can recall that exact moment in time when those terrible events began to unfold on the television. We are likely to remember when and where we were as the terrible news came about just as well as the event itself. I know I was sitting in my 3rd grade classroom looking up at the television in the corner of the room, where my teacher and other students felt it was horrible to watch nobody turned it off. I even remember the days following, and the moment of silence asked of us each morning before the start of class for a few days. I can picture myself in the classroom but I cannot completely remember the news itself aside from small bits and pieces of it.

A moment in my life that has seemed linked to a very strong emotional event was the death of my grandmother. She had been in the hospital for over a month and I was 6 years old. I was at my grandfathers house the night she died, and he and my mom say me down next to my “little bear” teddy bear on the couch next to the window. I can’t quite remember the words they used but I remember my response, I remember laughing at my mother telling her she was joking with me and asking to go visit my grandmother. I was old enough to understand death but it took a week to truly hit me. To this day I can still picture this moment in time as if I were sitting behind myself in the past on that couch. Like somehow my mind had warped what every angle of that room looked like. However, if I walk back into that room and look out that window from the couch if doesn’t suddenly pop into my head it seems to follow up with other sad events in my life or if for some reason I’m randomly thinking of her.

These flashbulb memories however are not always 100% accurate. We tend to believe that all of these memories are completely accurate the way we replay them through our head but we are very prone to make errors. It’s too easy to forget important details or “remember” things that never actually happened. As we take in new information we need to be open minded to the fact that not only new evidence confirms our original belief. As we repeat these memories to others, we also hear other accounts of that event which may seem more vivid than ours and might lead us to “revise” our own memories. Even the flashbulb memories that seem to be unforgettable have their own inaccuracies and can be wrong. (Vitelli, 2015)

Law B.M. (2011) American Psychological Association: Seared in our Memories http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/09/memories.aspx

Davidson, P. R. (2005) Source Memory in the Real World: A Neuropsychological Study of Flashbulb Memory.

Vitelli, R PhD. (2015) years Remembering 9/11

2 thoughts on “Gone in a Flash

  1. Sabrina Nicole Angelique Cooper

    On 9/11, I remember that I was off work and had been planning a shopping trip with my mother for that day in the days prior. I was still asleep in bed when the first news of the planes hitting was announced and my Mom rushed into my room, clearly upset, saying that a plane had just struck the World Trade Center. I remember being very confused and walking into the kitchen to see what was going on via the television news. I never really thought of these memories as a “photograph” anyway; I remember the emotion more than the details themselves. This flashbulb memory can be explained by the way highly emotional states activate the amygdala and help to cement things into memory (Goldstein, 2011). If the attacks had never happened, it is very likely that I would not have much of any memory of that particular day, as it would have been just another ordinary day off. The confusion, anger and fear that I was feeling as a result of the attack helped to form the memory of that particular day.


    Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd Ed.). California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

  2. Akela Jayontra Johnny

    Your post really hit home for me because I am a New Yorker, and 9/11 was not only scary to me but mostly confusing. The interesting thing is that I feel i can remember most of that day up until about 8:00 pm. I remember the announcement my principle made while I was sitting down in my 4th grade class, to the phone call my parents received around 6:00 pm saying my uncle Dave was in the hospital because he was working in the World Trade. The number one emotion that I remember from that day is confusion, and of course I don’t remember the exact words said or even the exact clothes that I wearing, but what consistently hits me is that raw feeling of confusion. i am sure that emotions have a lot to do with flashbulb memories, it`s not likely we can perfectly remember a day where we were bored or our feelings were neutral, it`s the events that pulls out a deep reaction from ourselves that we remember. It is important to remember that though we can remember a memory with a strong emotion or feeling it does not mean that we remember the details that came into play.

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