Emotion In Memory

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Flashbulb Memories

Lots of information gathered in our memories, from childhood to the present day is called autobiographical memory.

But some events stand out in the memory much more than others. The reason these stand out is because of their importance, and these memories are called 'Flashbulb Memories' (Brown a Kulik 1977). Memories of this type have personal significance. When the event happens, the person experiences a highly emotional state, extreme happiness, extreme sadness, etc. The result is that this event is imprinted on the memory.

Flashbulb Memory (Brown and Kulik 1977) are the memories which have been created in great detail during a personal significant event, very often, an event of national or international importance, e.g. the  terrorist attack of 9 / 11 in America. These types of memories last for a number of years, sometimes for ever.

Consider this for yourselves:

- Where were you when the 9 /11 terrorism took place?

- What were you doing at the time?

- With who were you?

- How did you hear of the event?

It is very likely that you will be able to answer the above questions. Some events stand out in the memory, much more than other events. The reason why these stand out in our memory is because of their importance. The result of this is that the event is imprinted on our memory, e.g. 9/11 terrorist attack.

Brown and Kulik (1977) discovered that 90% of people recounted flashbulb memories that were relevant to personal horrifying events, but this percentage falls in relation to public horrifying events. The memory percentage varied here, as it was dependant on the event, i.e. if the event was relevant to them personally. For example, 75% of black participants had flashbulb memories of the murder of Martin Luther King, compared to 33% of white participants.

Neisser (1982) argued that flashbulb memories are much more memorable because of the rehearsal and disclosure that happens after the event. As well as being exposed to news, people tend to discuss important events and their implications in daily life. This is likely to create considerably more opportunities for rehearsal to happen.

One of the main differences that people see between day to day memories and flashbulb memories is that people believe that flash memories are much more correct and clear. Partly this is because that people discuss significant events much more frequent than daily events. We hear about events on the news, read about them in newspapers, and have numerous discussions in the workplace and in local shops and so on.

So the big question is, are flashbulb memories remembered in more detail than other memories? Although they contain detail and are clear, this is not a sign of correctness - we can be confident about some things and still make mistakes. If Neisser's opinion is correct, the following insight into the original memory represents information gleaned after the event. Loftus (1979) has shown that post-event information can lead to inaccuracy in memories. Neisser relates…


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