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