Flashbulb Memories

Flashbulb memories is one of the many interesting topics discussed in discussed in the book, “THE MEMORY ILLUSION,” by psychologist Julia Shaw.  Flashbulb memories refer to memories regarding such events as where were you when 9/ll happened, when the Challenger Shuttle exploded, or when JFK was shot.  These types of question imply that we have the capacity for immediate powerful recollections of the circumstances we were in at particular significant moments.

Harvard University researchers Roger Brown and James Kufic have investigated these kinds of memories.  They sent out a questionnaire to 80 people to ask about what made them remember important historical events such as assassinations, highly newsworthy occurrences and personally important experiences.  They concluded from the questionnaire responses that many people have memories of considerably perceptual clarity for important historic events.  People would report more correct details with higher confidence for certain kinds of events, with these events having three main characteristics.

First , the event needed to generate a high level of surprise,  It could not be trivial or expected event.

Second, the event needed to carry important consequences for the person or for people in general—referred to as having a high level of consequentiality.

Finally, the event had to generate high levels of of emotional arousal—the individual needed to experience fear, sadness, anger or some other strong emotion.

These reports are of perceptually vivid events, and the respondents have high degrees of confidence in their reports.

Follow on research replicated these vivid memories reported with confidence.  However, when these memories were checked against known facts, discrepancies were found, and the accounts of these vivid memories varied when they were repeated at different times.

Some respondents became aware of the unreliability of these vivid memories when they remembered where they were at the time and found their recollections to be inconsistent with the true times and places they actually were at the time.  So although these memories were perceptually vivid, they were not accurate.

This is a serious problem regarding our memories.  We can be extremely confident in false or inaccurate memories.  We need to be aware of this overconfidence, and to be cautious in our reporting.

And we should regard highly confident reports of memory with caution.  Unfortunately, juries tend to place high credibility in memories reported with high confidence.  These reports are likely to be erroneous or even coached.  The reports of someone who is not quite sure of memories of what happened actually deserve a higher degree of credibility.  It is likely that many are serving prison sentences because they were unfairly convicted by juries who placed a high degree of credibility in testimony that was delivered with high confidence.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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