Critically Review The Research And Theories In

One Area Of Everyday Memory Essay, Research Paper The study of flashbulb memories is a prime example of the problems faced in everyday memory investigations. These memories are not experienced everyday of our lives, but

One Area Of Everyday Memory Essay, Research Paper

The study of flashbulb

memories is a prime example of the problems faced in everyday memory

investigations. These memories are not experienced everyday of our lives, but

are without doubt a phenomenon that each of has experienced in our lifetime. As

shall be discussed later, problems arise due to the fact that flashbulb

memories are characterised by extreme emotional, personal and surprise

situations (Brown & Kulik,1977). By their nature these memories refer to

specific contextual conditions that would be hard to replicate in a laboratory.

Therefore flashbulb memory researchers have had to find techniques beyond the

laboratory, due to the desire not to sacrifice essential ?ecological validity?

(Neisser, 1978) to gain more empirical control. One of the main questions

concerning flashbulb memories is their relationship to other types of memory.

There are many proposed divisions and sub-divisions of human memory, such as

working memory, procedural memory, semantic memory or episodic memory. Each of

these systems are functionally related to the maintenance of what is

essentially human life. One of the many functions is what Tulving (1983) called

?Mental time travel?, the ability to experience past events. Such

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 experiences 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. Flashbulb

memories carry such autonoetic information, but are believed to critically

different. 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. 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. 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 (1977) thought that the clarity and detail of FMs is

correlated with the emotion, surprise and personal consequentially of the

event. They also thought that surprise initiates FM formation, while personal

consequentially 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 (Ibid.). Apparently this was due to an

increased emotional personal consequentially felt in 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

(1982) 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 consequentially is applied after an event once

its 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 phenomenon 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 consequentially? was not measured within either the

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

(1977), emotional consequentially 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 et al (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 including

his own Thatcher resignation study and a San Francisco earthquake study

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

mediated by importance and/or emotion, but not rehearsal. Conway used these

studies as support for the idea that encoding is special for flashbulb memories

and that they are not purely the production of elaborate rehearsal. 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. This may explain their durability and accuracy

and therefore distinction from other forms of memory. FMs can be seen to be

independent of rehearsal as shown in emotional non-public events. Christianson

and Nilson (1989) cite the unfortunate case of a rape victim who developed

subsequent amnesia. When jogging in a familiar environment a year later, a

sudden clear flashback occurred.?

However such traumatic events may not be so indelible as Wagenaar has

shown in the inaccurate long term accounts of concentration camp survivors.

Memories appear to be mixed and confused concerning their fellow prisoners and

German guards. However caution must be drawn when using multiple event traumas

as they can be more fragmented than single events (Terr, 1991).Conway, (1994) has used

neuropsychological evidence to show that FMs may have a different coding system

to other forms of memory. Bliss and Lomo (1992) worked on a long term

poteniation (LTP) theory of consolidation from short term to long term memory.

LTP involves the firing of pre and postsynaptic neuronal cells as critical

factors in the possible neuronal plasticity of memory systems. LTP has been

found in areas of the Hippocampus and Amygdala.The Hippocampus is believed

to mediate the construction of temporary outline memories, while the Amygdala

is thought to be critical for the formation of emotionally toned memories

(McGaugh, 1992). Adrenaline associated with emotive events is thought to

release glucose past the blood brain barrier, which is thought to be

responsible for increased firing within the Hippocampus and Amygdala (Ibid.).

However as FMs involve more than just emotion, other brain structures are

thought to be activated in this way. As the frontal lobes are reciprocally

related to many areas of the cortex and the Amygdala, as well as being involved

with episodic and working memory (Stuss et al, 2001)it is plausible that this

area will reveal much of FM function in the near future. Conway, (1990) argued that

the distinction of FMs and Autobiographical memory is the reconstructive

quality of ordinary memories. However studies of patients in intensive care

units have shown unpleasant emotions coupled with drugs enhances memory for

internal events such as hypnogogic hallucinations (Jones, Griffiths & Humphris,

2000). Attention shifts during these events from internal to the external.

Patients show poor memory for their environment, but vivid memories for

hallucinations and nightmares. The fact that these memories were constructed

internally may weaken Conway?s (1990) idea that FMs are not mere elaborate

reconstructions of past events. However, the fact that the idiosyncratic or

contextual details were not remembered may rule these memories out as being

classed as flashbulb memories.It seems that FMs have been

applied to so many extreme memory phenomenon that they can be considered to be

part of a ?broad family of experiences? that include drug flashbacks,

palinopsia, palinacusis, post-traumatic memories and memories recurring from

mental disorders Mauricio and German (1999). However, as the longevity and

accuracy of memories involved with post-traumatic stress disorder have been

questioned (Baddeley, 1997) one could also question the validity of FMs and

therefore their uniqueness. In balancing this argument, Winnington, Hyman and

Dinnel (2000) suggest that the definition of what constitutes a FM may have

been lost over the debates. They state that Brown and Kulik?s (1977) original

definition should be re-addressed to ensure that flashbulb memory researchers

are indeed investigating the same entity. They suggest that not all past

research into flashbulb memories may not have strictly adhered to the ?emotion,

surprise and personal consequentially definition of Brown and Kulik. However

one may further that this definition itself is open to question and debate.The arguments forming the

theories of FMs are thus both productive and engaging, however some of the

debates may be limited by the research methods used. Winnington, Hyman and

Dinnel (2000) found that the initial indexing of an event influences the

apparent consistency of the memory for the event. In most FM studies, subjects

experiences of the event of indexed to get the full description of the

experience and then tested at a later date. Winnington, Hyman and Dinnel (2000)

wrote ?it appears that the time of initial testing needs to be considered when

conducting flashbulb memory studies? (pp. 214). It was found that those indexed

later had subsequently better recall of the OJ Simpson trial. They suggest that

those questioned earlier will be able to describe more and therefore have more

to remember when it comes to the recall situation. Another idea is that

additional information is given after the event, making the immediate period

following an event turbulent in terms of contrasting information. In this way

those indexed later may have ?settled? their memories compared to those just

after the event. Brewer (1992) suggests the ?wrong slice? hypothesis as people

may talked about the event in a number of different places, but been indexed

only one of these, subsequent recall may have referred to another correct but

un-indexed place of discovery of important news. Winnington, Hyman and Dinnel

(2000) conclude that researchers should try to obtain an indexing of events as

soon as possible. They write ?After an event, a memory may be gradually

consolidate as people forget? some

information, incorporate some information from other sources, and develop a

narrative of the event? (pp. 215). In conclusion, it seems that FMs are indeed

an interesting phenomenon. FMs do seem to reflect memories that are generally

more vivid, reliable, accessible and more important than other memories. The

distinctiveness of FMs does seem to be a bit of a grey area. One interpretation

is that there is more of a qualitative difference rather than quantitative with

FMs and other memories.The research into FMs is an

excellent example of everyday memory being investigated outside of the

laboratory. The issues of control and ecological validity are still significant

constraints on the research. However this research certainly doesn?t appear to

be ?bankrupt? (Banaji & Crowder, 1989) and has produced many new productive

and challenging theories to research into memory. With neurological findings

and new brain imaging techniques complimenting FM research, the area is

producing many controlled and ecologically valid research findings that

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