Flashbulb Memories

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Many people find themselves with the ability to recall important historical events in which they were alive to experience. These memories tend to be highly vivid and are long-lasting autobiographical memories that hold emotional significance. People hold these memories in higher confidence than they would every day memories because of the emotional connection they share with that specific day in history. Flashbulb memories are strong emotions produced by a historical event that prompt people to retell their personal stories of where they were during a tragedy. An important aspect of flashbulb memories are the subjective elements and personal context of the news. The emotional connection encourages rehearsal within the brain, which is why many people are able to recall the important historical events they experienced. In the following paragraphs, I will be discussing four separate experiments that assessed flashbulb memories. I will discuss what the researchers did, why they did it, and what they found.

Experiment One

The first experiment assessed if there is a special flashbulb memory mechanism. The researches implied that flashbulb memories contain special characteristics that are different from ordinary memories in which they believe are products of a special memory mechanism. The researchers focused their experiment on the explosion of the space shuttle in 1986. They inquired subjects’ memory for the circumstances of learning about the shuttle explosion a few days after it initially happened as well as nine months subsequently. They conducted a questionnaire regarding the conditions under which the respondent learned about the explosion. The researchers found that memories of learning about the tragedy are subject to inaccuracy and forgetting. This experiment focused solely on a negative event. It is possible to infer that this mechanism accounts for flashbulb memories being reported as more negative than positive based on the findings of this research.

Experiment Two

In this experiment, the authors exploit previously established methods to investigate flashbulb memory formation for the assassination of Osama bin Laden which resonated as a highly positive event for most people. The authors used open ended questions and an autobiographical memory questionnaire. They found the stability of the flashbulb memories did not differ. They also found that the ratings of vividness, recollection, and belief in the accuracy of flashbulb memories remained stable over time. In comparison, the same ratings declined over time for every day memories. Across three studies that they conducted, the researchers were able to conclude that positive flashbulb memories did not differ from negative flashbulb memories as much as they thought. Some people may perceive an event as positive and will rehearse it under that same impression. Others may feel differently and may perceive an event as negative and will rehearse it as such. Their results do confirm the fading of the memory over time and further suggest that positive events do not constitute in the profound vividness and confidence seen in negatively valenced flashbulb memories. The researchers also argued that their findings are supplementary evidence against a special memory mechanism in flashbulb memory formation.

Experiment Three

The final experiment examined flashbulb memory formation to the positive event of receiving an invitation to join a university-wide organization known as Greek Life. They made it known that from previous studies, levels of rehearsal were high for a positive event memory. The authors conducted a flashbulb memory questionnaire during the week of receiving invitations to determine whether flashbulb memories are related to positive events. Their results displayed the ratings of confidence, belief in accuracy, and knowledge of the setting to be superior compared to everyday memory formation. The positive event memories were immensely consistent over time, thus proving to be consistent with their hypothesis. It is possible to believe that if an event is embedded into one’s life script, rehearsal is more likely to occur. This means the recollection of a positive flashbulb memory has a higher chance of being accurate. The researchers conclude that experiencing an event that is personal enhances the possibility of rehearsal and the likelihood of forming a positive flashbulb memory.

Experiment Four

The final experiment I will discuss has to do with flashbulb memories toward an emotional-integrative model approach. The authors focused on the unexpected death of the Belgian king Baudouin. The researchers compared three models of flashbulb memories: the comprehensive model, photogenic model, and emotional-integrative model. The data of the study was collected using questionnaires distributed by the authors themselves. They sought out in hopes of finding differences between the models in order to find a special memory mechanism for flashbulb memories. Their results suggest that flashbulb memories do not imply the existence of a special memory mechanism.


Each article presented different results. They all had one thing in common and that was the study of flashbulb memories and whether the possible mechanisms account for those memories being reported as positive or negative. This field of research lacks quite a lot of evidence and support. Positive flashbulb memory research suffers from a difficulty in finding events capable of producing highly significant memories. On the other hand, negative flashbulb memories are considered more common and are easily accessible. In short, the perception of the experienced event will determine whether or not a flashbulb memory is reported as positive or negative.


  1. Mccloskey, M., Wible, C. G., & Cohen, N. J. (1988). Is there a special flashbulb-memory mechanism? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,117(2), 171-181.
  2. Kraha, A., & Boals, A. (2013). Why so negative? Positive flashbulb memories for a personal event. Memory,22(4), 442-449.
  3. Kraha, A., Talarico, J. M., & Boals, A. (2014). Unexpected Positive Events Do Not Result in Flashbulb Memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology,28(4), 579-589.
  4. Finkenauer, C., Luminet, O., Gisle, L., El-Ahmadi, A., Linden, M. V., & Philippot, P. (1998). Flashbulb memories and the underlying mechanisms of their formation: Toward an emotional-integrative model. Memory & Cognition,26(3), 516-531.
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Flashbulb Memories. (2021, Apr 05). Retrieved May 18, 2024 , from

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