Author Archives: elliebenning

Flashbulb Memories

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”.









What if half the world didn’t exist?

Can you imagine living in a world where you can only recognize half the world? This is a reality for many people. This is because of something we call Neglect Syndrome.  You may have heard of this also as hemispatial neglect or unilateral neglect.  Neglect syndrome is normally caused by damage to the parietal lobes. In our textbook it describes neglect syndrome as “when an individual seems to ignore half the visual world”. For most cases the damage is on the right side of the brain so it causes people to ignore the left world. This syndrome is an issue of attention, not blindness. You are “blind” to one side of the world but deals nothing with vision. Dr. Paresh Malhorta from the College of London perfectly puts it as “”It is not blindness in one eye, and it’s not damage to the primary sensory cortex, it’s a process of ignoring, for want of a better word, one side of space”.  This ignorance to the one side causes massive issues for victims of this syndrome.

There are many reasons for why someone may have neglect syndrome. The most common being stroke and accident. This syndrome is mainly seen in older patients because of the the main cause being strokes. In the article The Brain Damage that Hides Half the World, it follows an older man named Mr. X who suffered a stroke on the right side of his cerebral cortex. The author described the man as very intelligent and well put together. When you first look at Mr. X you would not know he had this syndrome. Psychologists were curious about Mr. X and did several experiments to understand the syndrome better. One test they preformed was on a piece of paper with horizontal fragments in which the experimenter asked Mr. X to connect the fragments. All the sections on the right were connected but everything on the left was blank. The experimenter asked Mr. X if he completed all the segments and he genuinely thought he successfully put a line through the whole page. When the experimenter flipped the page around to reveal the left side of the page, Mr. X just thought it was a joke or magic trick. This reveals to us another thing about neglect syndrome, those that have the syndrome do not know they do. 

There are many other examples of what victims of neglect syndrome struggle with the most. If you asked Mr. X to draw a picture of a house, clock, or face he would only draw the right side of the object. There are many simple things Mr. X can’t do in his daily life. He will only eat half of his plate of food, wash half his body, and even only read half of a word. They are not able to drive as well. This goes to the question of how people with this syndrome deal with only seeing half the world. And the answer is a simple one they never really do they just have to adjust to their new world so they can take care of themselves and do basic everyday activities. Dr. Malhorta did similar experiments on a man named Alan Burgress, who also suffered from a stroke. One they did quite often was ask Alan to put a dot in the middle of a 25 cm piece of paper. Of course at first he put the dot  2cm away from the right side. After repetition of the same task, Burgress started to improve being able to put the dot 10 cm from the right. This didn’t mean he was able to see the left side, it just meant he started to train himself to know where the middle would be to be considered “normal”. Dr. Malhorta stated that “It’s slightly abstract that they know there’s some problem on the left hand side, and they use strategies to try and overcome the problem, without really being able to appreciate it in it’s fullness.”

Another fascinating feature with the syndrome was found back with Mr. X. When shown a picture of a normal house someone with damage from a stoke would again not see the left side of the house. If the experimenter were to ask him if he wanted to live in the house he would say of course I would it is a beautiful house. If they were to show him the same picture of a house but this time with flames coming out of the left side he would not see the flames. The interesting part is when he is asked if he would want to live in house. Surprisingly he would say no to this question. He is unaware of the flames but knows something is wrong with the house he just doesn’t know why he would’t want to live in the house. This brings us to the last main point tied with neglect syndrome. Psychologist Michael Graziano puts it simple for us by saying that “He can process stuff on the left side. He just can’t attach the property of consciousness to it”. This ties back to the first point mentioned on how it is not blindness that causes neglect syndrome it is attention. The brain is such a remarkable thing and it is syndromes like this that help remind us of that and also help make us appreciate the fact that we can see the whole world with no effort.