Flashbulb Memory

by Kathryn Neibert

Why Flashbulb Memory?

I chose this topic because I am interested in why people remember certain things when something eventful happens as opposed to when the thing that happens was not as eventful.


Flashbulb memories are vivid and long-lasting memories of a personal circumstance surrounding their discovery of a shocking event. These flashbulb memories are retained on an occasion and last for a lifetime. An example of a flashbulb memory is remembering where you where or what you were doing at the time of the John F. Kennedy assassination, or the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

the brain

Because the events are highly emotional, whether they are positive or negative, flashbulb memories are believed to require the participation of the amygdala, the brain structure responsible for emotional memory, and possibly other brain systems that regulate mood and alertness.


The first people to propose the idea of flashbulb memories were Roger Brown and James Kulik in 1977. Psychologist Jennifer Talarico remembers what she was doing when the World Trade Center was hit, and this inspired her to conduct studies on flashbulb memories. Talarico and her professor Rubin took two different groups of students and asked them to recall what they were doing on 9/11. Their studies showed that both regular memories and flashbulb memories declined over time, but the students believed their memories on 9/11 are much stronger than their regular memories. 40% of people misremember some aspect of their 9/11 experience, the study indicates, the most wrong being how they felt.

fun facts

  • Flashbulb memories were named because it seems as if the mind as "taken a picture" of the circumstances in which the news was learned.
  • Flashbulb memories can serve as an important function of someone's personality. The sharing of these memories can be an important social activity.