25 September 2010

Flashbulb memories, positive events and the best goal in football history

Flashbulb memories (Brown & Kulik, 1977; Conway, 1995; Hirst et. al. 2009; Luminet & Curci, 2009; Neisser, 1982; Schacter, Gutchess & Kesinger, 2009; Talarico & Rubin, 2003) operate to connect and synchronize Conway’s (2005) self-centred model to the larger social and cultural milieu. Flashbulb memories (FBMs) are distinctly vivid, precise, concrete, and long-lasting memories of a personal circumstance surrounding a person’s discovery of shocking events. People seem to remember with almost perceptual clarity details of the context in which they first heard the news, i.e. what they were doing, whom they were with, and where they were. So, such memories are said to possess a ‘photographic’ quality, owing to the apparent visual clarity of the reproduction of the image in the mind’s eye. Explanations for the existence of such a vivid form of memory often relate to the nature and extent of the response to experiencing an event. For instance, events that elicit a greater emotional response (e.g. from surprise or shock) and are deemed to have greater (private and/or public) consequentiality, are frequently noted in psychological studies as key factors in strengthening FBMs. The examples provided by many cognitive psychologists (Hirst et. al, 2009; Luminet & Curci, 2009) are, as usual, 9/11 and the death of Princess Diana.

Neuroscientists (Schacter, Gutchess & Kensinger, 2009) also use FBMs to indicate the cultural influences on autobiographical memory. Their findings show that emotional events may not be immune to distortions by demonstrating that even FBMs tend to become distorted with the passing of time. This was one of the earliest critiques with regards to the accuracy of FBMs (Neisser, 1982). However, the most interesting finding of the study reported by Schacter, Gutchess & Kensinger (2009) is that negative emotions may provide some benefits in terms of the accuracy of FBMs.

This is one of my most vivid flashbulb memories for positive events. I hope one day I will have the opportunity to conduct a small study on the flashbulbs memories of the best goal in football history (Gracias Diego) -if you would be interested to be a part of it, please contact me: lucas@bietti.org


Brown, R. & Kulik, J. (1977). Flashbulb memories. Cognition, 5(1), 73-99

Conway, M. A. (1995). Flashbulb memories. Brighton, Sussex, England: Erlbaum

Hirst, W., Phelps, E., Buckner, R., Budson, A., Cuc, A., Gabrieli, J.D.E, Johnson, M.K., Lustig, C., Lustig, C., Lyle, K.B, Meskin, R., Mitchell, K., Ochsner, K., Schacter, D.L., Simons, J.S., Vaidya, C.J. (2009). Long-term memory for the terrorist attack of September 11: flashbulb memories, event memories and the factors that influence their retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology 138 (2), 161-176.

Luminet, O. & Curci, A. (Eds.) (2009). Flashbulb Memories: New Issues and New Perspectives. Hove: Psycology Press.

Neisser, U. (1982).Snapshots or benchmarks. In U. Neisser (ed.), Memory Observed: Remembering in Natural Contexts. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. pp. 43-48.

Schacter, D. L., Gutchess, A. H., & Kensinger, E. A. (2009). Specificity of memory: Implications for individual and collective remembering. In P. Boyer & J. Wertsch (eds.) Memory in Mind and Culture, pp. 83-111. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Talarico, J. M. & Rubin, D. C. (2003).Confidence, not consistency, characterizes flashbulb memories. Psychological Science, 14(5), 455-461.

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