Are flashbulb memories really that accurate?

As I thought about what to write for my March blog post, I couldn’t help but think to write about flashbulb memory. This topic has always interested me because why do certain memories seem so much more vivid with us than others? What makes them so special to us that we remember every little detail about that specific memory? One of the flashbulb memories that I hear about more than others in when the plane hit the twin tower on 9/11. Now I know I was only a baby at the time, but whenever that subject is brought up to my parents, they seem to act like it had happened yesterday; knowing exactly where they were at the time when they found about what had happened in New York, having to go pick us kids up from daycare, calling our families who at the time lived in New York, etc. I always find it fascinating that they can bring up those memories like it was just yesterday, even though in reality, it really happened over a decade ago. I decided to type into google search ‘flashbulb memory,’ and sure enough, one of the first articles I found was surrounded by the 9/11 attacks. The article talks about certain times in history, such as the Martin Luther assassination and the Kennedy assassination. What makes these so memorable? In 1977, Roger Brown and James Kulik argued that important traumatic events are stored in a complete and vivid way that captures the context, the event, and the emotional reaction to it. The suggestion is that when something serious or emotional happens, there may not be a time in the moment to evaluate what exactly happened, so by retaining the vivid memory, the individual can come back and re-examine the event. When someone has a flashbulb memory, they also seem overly confident that what they remember is exactly what happened. They believe that they could not have possibly misremembered the traumatic event wrong. So, in this article, a study was mentioned by psychologists after traumatic or emotional events. In a 2015 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers sent out memory surveys immediately after the airplane attacks on 9/11. They sent out follow-up surveys to participants after one, three, and ten years. Everyone seemed to still be very confident as to what happened that day, even though what they said on their survey, did not quite match up with their initial survey. It was said that compared to the survey taken 10 days after 9/11 occurred, there was significant discrepancies. A year after the event, only about 2/3 of what people remembered was correct and the survey that was taken 10 years later, people were still about 60% correct. Although the participants were mostly above average, there was still found to be inconsistencies in their memory. This shows that flashbulb memories are not always correct. A flashbulb memory that I have is when I found out about the passing of a loved one, I would bet my life on the exact moment I found out and what I was doing in that moment. But, it really makes me think if over time, I may be misremembering certain aspects of that day.

1 thought on “Are flashbulb memories really that accurate?

  1. kownbey

    I also wrote a blog post about this! It’s so interesting. It’s crazy how memories that are supposed to be highly vivid and accurate can be, well… not so accurate. I have also been rethinking my personal flashbulb memories since taking the class, and it’s crazy to believe that my memories have been skewed or misled in some form or fashion. It’s kinda scary, but it’s seriously amazing how our minds work.

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