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What is a Flashbulb Memory?

The flashbulb memory phenomenon really implies far too much accuracy than is the case. When someone equates flashbulb memories with a photograph, they are sorely mistaken. In theory, a flashbulb memory leaves a lasting impression upon the person who witnesses something as a photograph would. It implies that the person remembers details with vivid accuracy, right down to the ambiance of the event. This is not necessarily the case. While some people claim to have flashbulb memories, many of these are actually false memories which are a concoction of our own faulty recollection strewn with other mixed media such as other people's stories and news or magazine editors spin on events. So, how accurate are our memories, really?

Just as President Bush confused the details of the historic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, people confuse details of episodic memories all the time (Greenberg, 2004). The typical things that President Bush confused were his activities at the time of the attack and who told him about the event. The disturbing thing about these flashbulb memories is that in two out of three of his recollections, the events that he remembered to be true were actually impossible occurrences! How could a memory of an event so memorable be so severely misconstrued? President Bush actually reported seeing the terrorist attack before it was even televised. In fact, the footage never aired on television at the time the President claimed to have seen it happen. This is evidence that either President Bush is psychic, or flashbulb memories have the potential to be very faulty!

As if it's not aggravating enough when we cannot recollect a memory infused with the sincere emotion that we long to, we have to worry about memory sabotage! There are a plethora of ways in which our memories can be manipulated by outside sources. In one instance, changing the wording of a scenario can make one infuse details and create scenes which were never present (Loftus & Palmer, 1974 as cited in Greenberg, 2004). Another case of memory manipulation is easily demonstrated through the classic method of using word associations and word groupings. If given a list of words about gardening, for example, and the word "seeds" is added to the list but was never originally presented, chances are more than likely that people will think they heard the word "seeds" simply because it belongs ((Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995 as cited in Greenberg, 2004). These are very good evidence of how fragile memories can easily be manipulated by outside sources, with ease.

From these examples, it is easily believed that memories of any kind are fallible. The President was fortunate to be watched over with such scrutiny that his associates could tell him what really happened, yet even with this advantage, the President could not completely recall the events in perfect sequence. This indicates how our thoughts and what we "perceive" to be true actually permeates the actual truth of the events. Even to such an extent that when someone explains to us the actual event, we choose to recall it the way in which we "remembered" it the first time. That really is a phenomenon!



Sep 18, 2010 4:39pm
It is really quite surprising how inaccurate our memories really are. Scary as well if you consider a person to be the sum of his past.
Sep 19, 2010 5:16pm
Great info.
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