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A flashbulb memory is a memory laid down in great detail during a highly personally significant event, often a shocking event of national or international importance. These memories are perceived to have a "photographic" quality. The term was coined by Brown and Kulik (1977), who found highly emotional memories (e.g. hearing bad news) were often vividly recalled, even some time after the event. For example, a great many people can remember where they were when they heard of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or John Lennon.
Despite the great vividness of such memories, research suggests that compared with ordinary memories, flashbulb memories are no more likely to be remembered than ordinary memories (e.g., Weaver, 1993). The most pronounced difference between ordinary and flashbulb memory is that people believe flashbulb memories to be more accurately and vividly remembered. Part of the reason for this may be that people discuss such significant events frequently, and the after-the-fact discussion can modify what people believe they remember about the event. Neisser (1982) believes that flashbulb memories are enduring because they are constantly being reinforced by, for example, the media.
References & Bibliography
- Brown, R., & Kulik, J. (1977). Flashbulb memories. Cognition, 5, 73–99
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