Have you heard the term Flashbulb Memory (FM)? It’s that moment in time when some traumatic event happened that touched your soul and moved your world. You can remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with … and as you relive the event in your mind, it’s like you are right back there in that time and space.
What makes these events so memorable is the unusual intersection of the personal and the public, so that what becomes salient for you is actually learning about the event, in addition to the facts of it,” says cognitive psychologist William Hirst, PhD, a flashbulb memory researcher at the New School for Social Research.
The idea of flashbulb memory was first proposed in 1977 by psychologists Roger Brown, PhD, and James Kulik, PhD, who posited that these memories are so emotionally important to us that they’re laid down as vividly, completely and accurately as a photograph. But that idea remains hotly debated today. And each new public tragedy provides fodder for more research.
“Every time there’s a public trauma, psychologists run out in the street and capture people’s memories of what happened,” says Hirst. “They did it with the Challenger explosion. They did it with the death of Princess Diana… And we did it with 9/11.” (Law, B.M., September 2011. Seared in our memories. American Psychological Association.)
Dim Lighbulb Instead:
Well, I didn’t have one of those. In fact, there was no flashbulb or lightbulb on at all for this story.
What happened was this: A week ago, I cleared my calendar and left Saturday wide open so I could attend a memorial ceremony for a friend who died earlier in the month. On the same day, I planned to attend a party to celebrate my longtime friend (35 year Colorado friend) who turned 60.
I attended a breakfast meeting that morning and then headed home. It was an amazing day out – crisp air, falling leaves and blue skies. I decided to take a leisurely walk. I worked in the yard. It was truly beautiful outside.
Later in the day I attended a CSU Women’s Volleyball game and watched them win in front of a huge crowd. It was a fun, relaxing and laid-back day. A good day, really. Except…
On Tuesday night, my birthday friend left me a message saying she was sorry I didn’t make her party on Saturday. Her party was on Saturday? So, if I missed her party, then I also missed the memorial service! REALLY? Two HUGE events and I spaced them BOTH out. UGH!
Ok. This was bad. Now everything goes on my calendar. If I want to do it – out comes the pen and the words are written in ink. I can put them on my online calendar but the act of writing helps make the event real. Also, I have a visual every time I look at the calendar.
Help me out here – tell me I’m not crazy. Has this happened to you before? Lie to me if you have to!
- Seared in our memories (www.apa.org)
- Remembering 9/11 and Flashbulb Memories (andrewpegoda.com)
- Study links gene variation to a darker view of life (psychologicalscience.org)
- Good Question: Why Are Traumatic Memories So Vivid? (minnesota.cbslocal.com)
- Why your memory sucks (and what you can do about it) (lifehacker.com)
- Mindless things (margekatherine.com)