I have grown up in Charlottesville Virginia my whole life and it is a place that many people would call peaceful and beautiful. It is a very historic place and I loved being raised there. Downtown Charlottesville was a favorite hangout spot for many college and high school kids because of the abundant places to eat and the awesome things to do. The image of Charlottesville and more specifically Downtown Charlottesville was tainted on August 12th 2017. My hometown was changed that day because of the “Unite the Right” rally related to the tearing down of the Robert E. Lee statue. This ended horrifically when 32-year-old Heather Hoyer died from a car ramming through protesters. This was someone that lived in my neighborhood, someone that was well respected and also someone that died fighting for what they believed in. At the moment the car drove through the street I didn’t know who was killed and injured or even how many were killed or injured in that instant. All I knew was that my family and friends were downtown that day. This is my “Flashbulb Memory”.
I am sure that every single person reading this blog post can think of a “flashbulb memory”. Our textbook defines this as “a memory of extraordinary clarity, typically for some highly emotional event, that us retained despite the passage of many years”. These events are connected and remembered because of the emotion tied to them. We talked about in class with memory that if you have a connection to the material and can relate it to something in your life it is more easily put into long term memory. For example, the track and field man that chunked numbers into times for races. This is why “flashbulb memories” seem so vivid, they have a huge emotion tie to us. Psychology Today states that “there may not be time in the moment to analyze exactly what happened”. This is why they are remembered so long after.
A very common example of a flashbulb moment is 9/11. This was a tragic event that shaped the country. Since we are too young to remember 9/11 it is not considered a “flashbulb memory” for us. But for those that are old enough to remember, how many times have you heard the phrase “I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened”. This is an event that happened over 16 years ago and something that even today people swear they can still vividly remember. People are very confident in their perception of the event and that they have all the details right. What if I told you that these vivid memories and details you remember are actually a lie and altered.
The experiment by The Journal of Experimental Psychology, proves to us that we don’t remember all the details as accurately as we think we do. The experiment was focused on the events of 9/11. The researchers gave people a survey recalling specific events of 9/11 right after the event, a year after and then ten years after. Those that took the survey were pretty certain they got all the details correct but based on their first responses there were many inconsistencies. People after ten years had about a 60 percent accuracy. This accuracy is still better than other events from ten years ago but there were details that people missed. Another interesting thing that researchers found was that those who were surveyed remembered only core details of the event, like number of planes. They had little to no recollection about peripheral facts, like where George Bush was during the attacks.
One reason for why these events may be altered from the real version is because of false memories. This is when you almost create whole new details that didn’t actually happen but they are believable to you. An example of this is with an experiment by Elizabeth Loftus. She made a man believe a story that he got lost in a shopping mall when he was kid. Not only did he believe it but he added details to the story. We can adopt these false facts because of how accurate they can sound to us. This relates to the 9/11 scenario because the facts that they got wrong may be from stories other people have told or also from things that been on the news since it was something shown nationwide and is talked about each year. These are facts about 9/11 that are relatable and believable.
So even though these “flashbulb memories” are so vivid, which makes you confident in them, they are inconsistent. So ten years down the road I may remember the name of the lady that was killed and what I was doing in that moment but other details surrounding the event will be lost. At the end of the day though it doesn’t matter what colored shirt I was wearing when the car went down the street, what matters is the emotion tied to the event. Even though these memories are not always accurate they at least help us remember something very important and connected to us. As stated in the textbook “memory errors can occur even in the midst of our strongest, most vivid recollection”.