Flashbulb Memory Essay Example

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Hannah Wisinsky

Psychology 201 – Section 106

 George Adkins

Flashbulb Memory

A flashbulb memory  occers  when major events happen in a persons life it activates a special memory mechanism  that creates a elaborate, permanent “flashbulb memory” of a person’s experience just before, during and after learning of the shocking event. The term was given by Brown and Kulik in 1977 who determined highly emotional memories (example: hearing bad news or life changing events) were often graphically  retrieved, even over a long period after the event.  These memories are perceived to have “photographic”  prime. They have a detail-perfect apparel of contextual information (weather, back-ground music, clothes worn, etc.) pertaining to the time and place where the event was first known. This may even evoke emotions similar to the ones felt upon hearing the news.                                                                                                 Flashbulb memories are not as accurate or permantent as photographic memories but the flashbulbs memories’ forgetting curve is far less affected by time than is the case for other types of memories. Flashbulb memories are not always accurate nor immune to forgetting. Accuracy reduces during the first three months and levels at about twelve months                                        Which brain regions are involved in flashbulb memory, however, is uncertain. Flashbulb memories are thought to require the participation of the amygdala, a brain structure involved in emotional memory, and possibly other brain systems which regulate mood and alertness. Although medial temporal lobe/diencephalic damage impairs content or item memory, frontal lobe damage has been associated with impaired source memory medial temporal lobe/diencephalic and frontal lobe structures appear to play different roles in memory for flashbulb events.


Emotion can have powerful negative or positive effects on memory. It’s said that emotional arousal can lead to a very clear memory for events occurring whilst in this state of arousal.
A flashbulb memory is a lasting memory of the context in which the memory was made. It involves an enduring imprint of events surrounding an important incident i.e. who told you about 9/11?
Brown and Kulik proposed the idea of Flashbulb Memories after being amazed at the detailed memories some people had of traumatic events. They said, providing an event; directly effects a person’s life, is seen as surprising and/or the person has prior knowledge so it can be related to existing memory structures, a special neural mechanism may be activated. This mechanism takes a ‘photograph’ of said event and ‘prints’ the details permanently into the memory system. The memory is said to be like a photo due to its unchanging nature and high levels of accuracy.
The key ingredient to flashbulb memories is a high level of emotional arousal at the time the event was committed to memory.

Evidence to support the idea of flashbulb memory comes from Brown and Kulik themselves. They looked at flashbulb memories of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Findings showed that 75~% of black Americans had flashbulb memories of the event compared to only 33% of white Americans. They concluded that flashbulb memories were stronger for famous assassinations of people of their own ethnicity.
This shows that flashbulb memories might be well recalled if they event is seen as a personally relevant emotional event. In this case, personal relations are heightened by ethnicity.
Due to the fact that these are real memories brought on by real events, the study is high in ecological validity meaning that the results are reflective of the real world. As well as this, generalisation of results is easier to perform.

Alternative evidence to support flashbulb memories high accuracy and photographic nature comes from...

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