It is inevitable that at some point down the road in your life, a very unexpected traumatic incident will take place, leaving you forever with the memory the event. These memories as we learned about in class, are known as flashbulb memories. The textbook defines flashbulb memories as “memories of extraordinary clarity, typically for highly emotional events, retained despite the passage of many years”.
However, there is a debate on whether these flashbulb memories are accurate or not. After our class discussion over flashbulb memories, I was really interested in reading more on flashbulb memories to better understand their accuracy. While researching the topic, I found an article that really caught my eyes. The main focus of the article is on flashbulb memories and the 9/11 terrorist’s attacks.
In the article begins by discussing the origin of these flashbulb memories. The first traumatic incident that sparked interest and research on flashbulb memories was the assassination of John F. Kennedy during his presidency in 1963. Other highly emotional and traumatic incidents that resulted in flashbulb memories include the Challenger space shuttle explosion, the death of Princess Diana, and the terrorist’s attacks.
As the article continues, the reliability and accuracy of flashbulb memories are examined. After the 9/11 attacks, a study took place at Duke University where students were asked questions about their memories of 9/11 and their everyday memory promptly after the incident. In groups of 18 the students were asked the same questions after a period of time. One group answered the questions a week later, another answered six weeks later, and the last answered thirty-two weeks later. The study found that both types of memory, everyday and flashbulb, both declined over a time period. However, they found the participants were very confident in the accuracy of the memories of 9/11 than they were of their everyday memories. What I found most interesting while reading this section of the article was how they inferred that our current outlooks on the situation change our memory of our initial and previous outlook of the situation. For example, in the article the influence of social media and news media were concluded to have influence on our memory. Since the incident would be reported and talked about by many different sources and people, your memory might start to accept those concepts while not even realizing it. They also used a very good example for explaining how your views on the incident now verses your initial views could change your memory. The example they used was asking people in a relationship if they were happy and were satisfied with their relationship. Many would report yes, but if you were to go back and re-ask the same people from that relationship after they broke up many would say that they were not right for each other etc.
The next assumption that is made in the article is that even though flashbulb memories might not be completely accurate, they are extremely vivid and detailed. They believe that this is because of emotion. A study was done on people who were in downtown Manhattan (close to the twin towers) and far away (midtown). The brains of participants were scanned using fMRI technology. From this they saw that for every participant, there was activity in the hippocampus when recalling memories not about 9/11. The hippocampus, we know from class, deals with every day memory. The midtown participants did use their hippocampus when recalling 9/11 and downtown participants used their amygdala. From class we also know that the amygdala is involved with formation of emotional memories. From this they concluded that those who have higher emotional connections and ties to the event would have overall better memory of what happened.
Even though this article was mainly about memories of 9/11, the results can still be applied to other traumatic events that result in false memories. The section I found to be the most interesting was how even though tests have shown flashbulb memories and regular memory become less accurate over time, people are very certain on their flashbulb memories. It made sense to me how if you are more emotionally connected to a traumatic event that would remember more about what actually happened in depth than someone who was not as connected. The influence of media was another interesting section. I was aware about how media influences your views on certain topics but I never thought to think that it could influence how you remember a certain event. Maybe with knowing this people can improve their memory by being more cautious of the things they believe.