A Distinction: Flashbulb Memories or Reminiscence Bump?
We’re all well aware of what’s been happening in the past several months. Things have transpired in such a way that, from January to March, the news of current events have been particularly jarring. Among the coping culture of younger generations comes the production of memes in popular social media. Among these, we have the above: in which, ten years in the future, “2020” is a trigger for memories of what’s happened so far this year. From WWIII concerns to the current pandemic, its fair to say that the year has so far left a strong impression on us all.
So, how does this happen? There’s two possible options that I’ll discuss in my blog post. The first is flashbulb memories, which are very vivid memories within our autobiographical memory (most typically episodic memory). These flashbulb memories are closely associated with flashbacks, which are again closely associated with trauma or moments of substantially strong enough emotions, which can include receiving major news. In the month of January, there was a WWIII scare, which led to a deluge of social media referencing and which may have affected people to a certain degree, perhaps strongly enough to warrant the creation of flashbulb memories. However, while I’ve described flashbulb memories as being incredibly detailed and vivid, there’s one caveat that we must keep in mind: even though flashbulb memories are far more long lasting, they tend to be less accurate than our everyday memories, no matter how much more more we tend to feel more confident as to their accuracy.
A process through which we relive these memories is through recall initiated by what is widely regarded as a trigger, though is more scientifically known as a retrieval cue. Retrieval cues are stimuli that are relevant and closely related to other information that activates connections (formed through associations) within our brains that lead to other memories. Cues can cascade and waterfall – as we cue and remember specific information and memories, they can in turn cue even more information and memories.
Another potential contender that we have to explain the meme is the cognitive psychological phenomena of the reminiscence bump. Here, we have a strong recall of our autobiographical memories happening in our teens and 20’s. In short, older adult’s strongest memories are are of events and experiences that occurred between the ages of 10-30. The reminiscence bump applies to both semantic and episodic memories. Herein, we have three potential explanations (or perhaps even a mixture of all three or other combinations) as I learned them in my Psychology of Aging class:
- Self-image – period of assuming one’s own self-image and sense of identity.
- Cognition – encoding is typically better during periods of rapid change.
- Cultural life script – culturally-shaped experiences structure recall.
Within my Cognitive Psychology class, we discussed another two potential factors:
- Improvement of memory due to greater attention paid to life and surroundings (which falls in line with the aforementioned cultural life script).
- And increased retrieval practice, brought about our tendency to reminisce (ironic isn’t it?) on what are typically viewed as the peak years of our lives, the highlights that shape us.
Now, I’ve mentioned two aspects of memory that I haven’t explained so it would only be right to properly define them for the audience. Episodic memories are a form of autobiographical memory; they’re narratives of our lives, recollections of events relevant to us like my mom’s wedding on the beach when I was 8 or the first time I swam a 50 yd freestyle sprint in under 22 seconds (CAC’s last year). Semantic memories, on the other hand, are statements of fact and are not necessarily tied to our personal lives – don’t have to be autobiographical. What’s the capital of France? What’s the legal drinking age in the US (though that may, perhaps, be of some personal relevance to some)?
Bottom line, I believe that whichever phenomena through which people remember the so-far memorable year of 2020 is something that is subjective and not necessarily mutually-exclusive. For some it could be one or the other, and for others it could be both. If you’ve enjoyed my blog post and/or have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to to leave me a comment!. Best wishes in everything!