Where were you when 9/11 happened?

A Flashbulb memory is when there is a traumatic event occurs and you then capture that entire scene, the most important details and then you hold on to that memory for the rest of your lifetime. Often times people have flashbulb memories that involve 9/11.  I know that I have one of that day and I was very young, since I lived in New Jersey close to New York City, a lot of the parents of the people I went to school with worked in the City. I remember my mom picking me up from Preschool early that day because the schools my older siblings were in told the parents that they did not want the parents to come and pick them up since they did not want to alarm the student or even tell them what happened. I remember that there was a tree down on the main road to get to the school and my mom was having a hard time with the traffic to come and get me. I also remember that after 9/11 in my little Irish Catholic town we lived in hearing the bagpipes from all of the funerals that were taking place, I also remember that 2 houses down from us was this girl who was my age and her dad, unfortunately, he was one of the people who worked in the Twin Towers who lost their life. I remember that his wife and kids were having a very hard time after he passed, and I remember seeing his kids getting in trouble trying to steal something from the Chocolate shop in town. Are the memories that I have real memories that I remember or memories from being told things from my family.

In the US news article Neisser and Harsch did a little study to see what people really recall how they learned about the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster the morning after it happened. “They found that almost all of the students had detailed memories of “exactly” where they were and what they were doing when they found out about the explosion.” Neisser and Harsch conducted a study that no one else had done before. They decided to ask the participants the recall the same events a few years later, and they found that everyone still had vivid memories about it, but their memories had remarkably changed. 25% of the participants reported different memories altogether, such as describing something that they had learned from a fellow student in class or including something that they saw on TV and including that into their story. This shows us that the vividness and confidence that the participants had in their story was not related to the accuracy of their true memories.

In this article, they also conducted another survey and in this, they asked the participants about their memorable events from the weekend before 9/11. They did this so they could compare flashbulb memories and ordinary memories of life events over time. They conducted a longitudinal experiment where they asked them about their memories one week, one month or seven months later.  They had 2 different groups, so each participant only told them their memories twice like in the previous experiment. They found that over the week the memories were consistent, and once you got to one month and definitely by the 7 months, the memories showed fewer and fewer consistent details.

We can obviously see that there are inconsistencies with memories, and the longer time pasts the less accurate the memories are. A tip that I have whenever there are very important events and you want to remember it, take a journal and write down everything that happened, word for word, every little detail, so later in life when you want to remember a past event you can read your journal and remember everything that happened without adding additional information.






3 thoughts on “Where were you when 9/11 happened?

  1. nickg

    Flashbulb memory studies are so interesting to me. False memories make a lot of sense to me when thinking about how others can influence our own memories with priming and the like, but its crazy to think about just how much our own brains distort our memories too.

  2. nboigegrain

    Flashbulb memories are really interesting to me. I unfortunately have a few of my own that are more individualized than knowing where you were when a celebrity died or when an earthquake happened. I also have been so sleep deprived for a substantial amount of time that made my memory not so great for a certain period of time. So while I have very clear, detailed memories of particular events in my life, I often wonder if they are real, or if I am confusing them with something else. I find your tip of keeping a journal incredibly helpful but also not practical for my life. I personally find it boring to write about what happened that day, as I can clearly remember what happened for that day, so I find it pointless to write about it at that time, even though I know it would helpful down the road when I no longer remember everything as clearly. I also feel like I just don’t have the time. Instead, whenever possible, I take pictures of events I want to remember, which can cause its own kind of memory problems, but at least it makes me feel better about not writing in a journal.

  3. kourt21

    Flashbulb memories are incredibly interesting to study because of the connection between our emotions and prominent events in our lives. I have a few flashbulb memories, but nothing from 9/11, I was 2 when it occurred. I remembered where I was and who I was with when the 2011 earthquake happened in central VA. I remember hanging off the side of my bunk bed thinking that someone had jumped something really big or that anything else other than an earthquake had happened. I love the actor Alan Rickman (Snape from Harry Potter) and I remember exactly where I was when I learned he had passed away. Ironically, I cannot remember any super big event that I would share a flashbulb memory with (like a universal like 9/11).
    – kchiles

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