In Chapter 8: Remembering Complex Events, there was a section on Flashbulb Memories. Flashbulb Memories are defined as memories if extraordinary clarity, typically from some highly emotional event, that is retained despite the passage of many years. This specific section caught my interest because of a study done in 1977 by Brown and Kulik, who coined the term “flashbulbs”, where they interviewed people a decade after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. These participants could recall the memory “as if it were yesterday”, remembering details of where they were at the time, what they were doing at the time, whom they were with at the time. Many participants could even recall the clothing worn by people around them, the exact words uttered, and more.
Many other events have produced Flashbulb Memories. Most Americans can clearly recall where they were when they first heard about the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City September 11th, 2001. Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, there was a heightened fascination in understanding how public violence and terror attacks give rise to flashbulb memories. In a recent article, called A Potential Benefit to Memories of Terrorism by Gaesser and Ford, the authors write about how the way people remember past altruistic acts in the aftermath of trauma can actually influence their willingness to act altruistically in the future. Their research suggests that memory, specifically Flashbulb Memories, can be used to enhance prosocial [behavior that is positive, helpful, and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship] decisions and behavior to help someone in future situations. The rise of prosocial responses in traumatic situations can potentially influence the increase in helping following these traumatic events.
For example, April 15th, 2013, two bombs exploded during Boston’s 2013 marathon. Hundreds of people were injured and hundreds more rallied to help. Runners, spectators, and first responders showed true altruism by selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way to help the injured victims of the bombing in the immediate aftermath. These heroic acts gave rise to vivid images, seared in people’s memory. These are Flashbulb Memories. People recalled helping in related events in the aftermath in greater detail also reported engaging in helping behaviors several months later. Individuals with more detailed memories helping in related events in the aftermath reported higher rates of blood donations and of volunteering for and donating to Boston-based charities. These findings correlate. It is also possible that people who are more naturally selfless are more likely to remember past selfless behavior, creating Flashbulb Memories.
While cognitive psychologists have made great progress in understanding how the sensory details, emotional grip, and one’s confidence in the accuracy of these highly negative memories change over time. In the aftermath of terror attacks and other disasters, however, comes a wave of altruism that memory researchers have previously overlooked: altruism born of suffering. In future years, I would hope to see more research that might prompt a group of observers to remember helping in related events in an aftermath in clear details following these events that form Flashbulb Memories and examine these observers helping behavior increase.
Link to article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-potential-benefit-to-memories-of-terrorism/