Do Flashbulb Memories Differ Essay Research Paper

Do Flashbulb Memories Differ Essay, Research Paper ?Our past is preserved in a variety of memories of very different nature? (Salaman, 1970) There are many proposed divisions and

Do Flashbulb Memories Differ Essay, Research Paper

?Our past is preserved in a variety of

memories of very different nature? (Salaman, 1970)

There are many proposed divisions and

sub-divisions of human memory, such as working memory, procedural memory,

semantic memory or episodic memory. Many of the systems seem to overlap, with

each having varying functions related to the maintenance of what is essentially

human life. For example, episodic and autobiographical memory fundamentally

share the same functions. One of the many functions is what Tulving (1983)

called ?Mental time travel?, the ability to experience past event.

Autobiographical memories are thought to be structured at different levels of

temporal and spatial specificity that together are used as reference for the

construction of ?self?. This mental time travel can take place through

different hierarchic levels of autobiographical organisation. The hierarchy

level can be as general as ?university? or as specific as remembering the topic

of conversation with a certain person on a certain day (Cohen, 1998).

Autobiographical memories are therefore seen as being autonoetic in that they

carry information about the context in which they were experienced. One

example of an extreme form of contextual specific memory is the death of

Princess Diana. Many people especially the media ask a common question such as

?what were you doing when you heard the news?. Many people claim to be able to

remember such major moments with unusual clarity and vividness, as if the

events were etched on their minds throughout their lives. The question is

whether these ?flashbulb memories? are functionally different to all other

types of memory such as autobiographical memory.Brown & Kulik (1977), introduced the term

flashbulb memory to describe memories that are preserved in an almost

indiscriminate way. They postulated that these flashbulb memories were indeed

different from ordinary memories, with some defining characteristics. Although

these memories are thought to be photographic in their clarity and detail, they

do not preserve all features of an event. Conversely Brown & Kulik proposed

that idiosyncratic event details are remembered. These details help form what

has been described as a ?live? memory in that the ?reception field? is

remembered including ?where?, ?when? and ?who with? factors of an event. Brown

& Kulik (1977) studied memories for important events such as the death of

John F Kennedy. They found that irrelevant details were often recalled and it

appeared that they had retained ?a brief moment of time associated with an

emotional event? (Smyth et al, 1994). Brown & Kulik suggested that

flashbulb memories are formed by the activity of an ancient brain mechanism

evolved to capture emotional and cognitive information relevant to the survival

of an individual or group. To summarise, flashbulb memories FMs are

thought to be an unique survival mechanism distinct from other form of memory

in their clarity, longevity and attention to idiosyncratic detail. These characteristics of flashbulb memories

can be mapped onto issues concerning memory. As with many memory systems, the

argument over the distinctiveness of flashbulb memories involves encoding,

storage and retrieval. These issues

relate to many issues within Flashbulb memory such as their formation,

accuracy, consistency and longevity. It appears that these processes are

interrelated with each process being dependent on another. In terms of FM formation, Brown & Kulik

thought that the clarity and detail of FMs is correlated with the emotion,

surprise and personal consequentiallity of the event. They also thought that

surprise initiates FM formation, while personal consequentiallity determines

the elaborateness of the resulting FM. As support for this they found that more

blacks had FMs associated with the death of Martin Luther King compared to

whites. Apparently this was due to an increased emotional personal

consequentiallity felt their part of society.

Therefore self referring prior knowledge of surprising important events

is thought to support privileged encoding of FMs compared to other mundane

memories. In support for this Livingstone (1967) proposed that when an event

passes a certain biological criterion, the limbic system discharges into the

reticular system, which further discharges throughout the cortical hemispheres.

This firing above a certain level has been termed the ?now print? mechanism.

This system can be seen as being rather like the flash going off on a camera.

However this view is criticised on the grounds that this ?biological level? is

not specifically identified. In a further criticism Neisser (1982c) has

claimed that FMs are not specially encoded and therefore not unique. Neisser

proposed that FMs were Simply ordinary memories made clearer and longer lasting

by frequent rehearsal after the event. This argument seems quite logical, as

particularly in this global age the media and society frequently replay and

retell events of extreme public attention or emotion. Flashbulb memories could

therefore be seen as memories that have be actively reconstructed to such an

extent that they can be clearly replayed in our minds. Flashbulb memories are

seen by Neisser not as a special evolutionary mechanism, but as a method of

promoting the integration of an individual within a society. In this

reconstruction, personal consequentiallity is applied after an event once is

importance is measured within society. This also questions the validity and accuracy

of ?flashbulb memories? in that they are memories actively reconstructed and

transformed over time. Neisser & Harsch (1992) measured flashbulb memories

of the shuttle challenger explosion. They found that after one day 9 subjects claimed

to have learned of the event from television, however 34 months later this

figure had risen to 19. As a further nail in the coffin for Brown and Kulik’s

flashbulb memory hypothesis Christianson & Loftus (1987) found that high

emotion served to narrow attention to focus to the central aspects of an event

a the expense of peripheral details. This would seem to indicate that the

idiosyncratic details associated with flashbulb memories are more

reconstructive, as the periphery surrounding an event is filled in on

rehearsal. At this point it may appear that flashbulb

memories are little more than a cultural phenomenom involving an enhancement of

ordinary memories and therefore not different from them. McCloskey et al (1988)

have pointed out that ordinary memories can be accurate and long lasting due to

frequent rehearsal. FMs are therefore may be ordinary memories retained to some

unusually high standard of clarity.However there has been a considerable

backlash in support of uniqueness of flashbulb memories. Various researchers

have pointed to the fact that personal consequentiallity was not measured within either the

challenger or other such studies. As already demonstrated by Brown and Kulik

(1977), emotional consequentiallity is a dominant factor in the formation of

FMs as seen in their comparison of FMs for Malcom X between blacks and whites.

In a similar study, Conway (1994) measured FMs of the resignation of Margaret

Thatcher. Conway took measures immediately and around 9 months. Conway found that

over 86% of British subjects had complete and accurate memories fitting the

description of FMs. Conversely only 29% of non-British subjects had ?FM?

memories. In a comparison of three studies of important news events such as the

resignation of including his own and the San Francisco earthquake (Neisser,

Winograd, and Weldon, 1991), Conway (1995) concluded that FMs may be mediated

by importance and/or emotion, but not rehersal. Conway used these studies as

support for the idea that encoding is special for flashbulb memorie and that

they are not purely the production of elaborate rehersal. Although Conway found In terms of accuracy of

flashbulb memories. Rehearsal is thought to serve different

functions for different memories. Smyth et al (1994) noted that some memories

successfully remain with us accurately for many years. They furthered that

these extended memories could be distinguished between memories that have used

over a period of time and emotionally charged flashbulb memories. Conway (1995)

suggests that rehearsal may serve to prevent these ordinary memories from

decaying while rehearsal within flashbulb memories acts to elaborate. It may be that ordinary memories require

preventative rehearsal due to their instability. Conway (1995) believed that

most autobiographical memories are unstable and dynamic requiring effortfull

maintenance. Conway & Anderson (1993) believe that ordinary memories are

constructed from different types of autobiographical knowledge and not directly

accessed as in a ?memory unit?. Flashbulb memories however are believed to

represent tightly organised and dense autobiographical knowledge. FMs are

therefore thought to be different to ordinary memories in their specificity of

knowledge and organisation within the brain.have suggested that there are In terms of

accuracy, Conway has pointed to the fact that Brown and Kulik never claimed

that FMs were perfect. Examples of personal FMs, those experienced

solely by individuals support Conway?s arguments of the speciality of encoding

being independent of rehearsal. Christianson and Nilson (1989) site the

unfortunate case of a rape victim who developed amnesia, supposedly motivated

as a removing the event from memory. However the victim was jogging a year

later when a sudden flashbulb memory or flashback was experienced. This was

cued by the victim noticing a similar brick pattern to that seen during the

attack. According to Conway and Brown & Kulik,

the differences between ordinary memory and FMs would be self evident in this

sort of incident. Due to their dense organisation, FMs can be compared to a

tightly wound spring in that they are hollistc.The issue of flashbulb memories being

indellible It appears therefore that FMs may as first

thought have a unique encoding mechanism that is independent of rehearsal.

Pilemer et al (1988) ? emotionIn conclusion, the distinction between FMs

and ordinary memories is in clear in places unfortunatly this difference is not

universal. There seems to be a fine line between vivid autobiographical

memories and flashbulb memories. There seems to be many factors influencing

flashbulb memory formation, however these have been broken down primarily to

personal consequentiallity, importance of an event and emotion. Surprise is

thought to be a significant factor that combines with the other three to

promote the ideal conditions for flashbulb memory formation. Conway (1994) has

concluded that during events importance interacts with emotion to form FMs.

Conway?s evaluation does not describe how vivid autobiographical memories may

represent different systems to flashbulb memories. The personal problem I have concerning the

distinctiveness of FMs was encountered recently. Whilst typing an essay, I

experienced an extremely vivid flashback to a time I had stopped in a service

station in Australia. I distinctly remember buying a green ice lolly, and what

the view was like out of the window. This event had little impact on my life

and I remember being completely relaxed at the time. I had been travelling for

a while and these stops were frequent enough to not be a ?first time

experience? and at the time could be considered mundane. On reading the

literature I struggled to find concrete information to ascertain if this

experience was a FM or just a very vivid autbiographical memory. The experience

had not been rehearsed, yet was brought back spontaneously with incredible

clarity more than two years on. Supporters of FMs would argue that this memory

In terms of long term potentiation this memory may LTP put in buffer zone activated by levels of

arousal or attention that were high for the entire trip. Once back in England,

the whole of that experience may have been related to personal importance and

Current life plans (Conway, 1995) and therefore what was not seen as important

at the time may have become so a few months later. Similarly my memories of

university so far seem quite vague, however it may that once my life plans

change in the future, some of these memories may be afforded flashbulb quality.

Perhaps many of these memories are of flashbulb quality, but are not remembered

at the moment as such as they have little consequence in an environment that is

constant. In my opinion there is a sliding continuum in

terms of flashbulb memories and other autobiographical memories. As mentioned,

autobiographical memories are thought to be arranged in a hierarchic structure

that involves levels of general and minuate. In my opinion, FMs represent the

formation of extreme memories that require little thought to remember. In this

way FMs may be qualitively different to ordinary memories, in that they are

simply higher on the scale of specificity. My argument therefore is that yes

flashbulb memories are different from ordinary mundane autobiographical memory.

As vivid memories are also distinct from mundane memories, FMs in my opinion

are not unique in their formation, longevity and clarity. Conway argued that the distinction of FMs and

autiobiographical memory is the reconstructive quality of ordinary memories.

However studies of patients within intensive care units (Jones, Griffiths &

Humphris, 2000) have shown that in the understandable unpleasant emotions

coupled with drugs enhances memory for internal events such as hypnogogic

hallucinations. Attention shifts during these hypnogogic images from the

external to the internal. Patients show poor recall for their external

environment, but vivid memories for the hallucinations and nightmares. Although

the authors use Conway?s suggested four variable interaction to explain the

events in terms of emotion and personal consequentiallity, the fact that these

vivid memories were constructed and not infact viewed independently may weaken

the difference between FMs and other autobiographical memories. It seems that FMs have been applied to so

many extreme memory phenomenon that they are a class of their own. Mauricio

& German (1999) have claimed that

to see flashbulb memories as being unique

and without parallel in psychology is wrong. They argue that psychologists should

consider flashbulb memories as being members of a ?broad family of experiences

that include drug flashbacks, palinopsia, palinacusis, posttraumatic memories,

and the vivid and haunting memories experienced by subjects with some forms of

mental disorder?. As the longevity and accuracy of memories involved with

posttraumatic stress disorder has been questioned (Baddeley, 1997)In conclusion there is considerable evidence

that humans do have memories that are extremely vivid, clear and long lasting.

However these FMs themselves