Flashbulb Memories Sample Paper

This essay seeks to explain the application of flashbulb memories in people’s experiences, impact they have had and the retention and maintenance models associated. Finkenauer et al (1998) elucidated flashbulb memories as detailed revelations of the way people respond to important facts in their experiences. This essay assumes the perspective that flashbulb memories (FBMs) can be explained using models which assess the formation and maintenance of FBMs. Brown and Kulik (1977) and Conway et al (1994) initially proposed two theories to explain flashbulb memories. This has however, been developed further through the formulation of a third model, which includes the recent advancements in emotional studies. These models explain the response of Belgian citizens on learning King Baudouin of Belgium death. In addition, other events of national or global significance in the universe are consulted. Comparatively, the three the third model, which emphasized on emotional studies was presumed to give a more accurate revelation as compared to the formation and maintenance approach.

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Different people experienced different levels of FBMs attributes. The literature cited has revealed different levels of confidentiality in recollections and memories associated with the original occurrence. Time failed to significantly influence the emotional and social determinants but instead it interfered with FBM attributes and confidence levels across diverse perspectives. In addition, further research needs to be enhanced to establish the effect of direct concerns on memory. FBMs deteriorate with time similar to other ordinary memories especially those that affect independent people. Christianson (1989) reveals that FBMs lack specialization especially when assessed in the short-run.

Human beings have been known to have detailed revelations of the circumstances behind some important events that have taken place during their lifetime especially if the events were of great importance to their nation, for instance the assassination of political leaders (Finkenauer et al, 1998, as cited from Brown & Kulik, 1977; Christianson, 1989; Colegrove, 1899; Winograd & Killinger, 1983). People are able to memorize the specific details of the event from the time they heard the news for the first time. Such details include the time they heard the news, their location, other activities happening at that time and the people involved in those activities and their response on hearing the news (Brown & Kulik, 1977). This phenomenon, according to         Brown and Kulik constituted flashbulb memories of brevity and surprise. Larsen (1992) and Neiser and Harsh (1992) propose that these memories are inaccurate and are not as long lasting as the explained photographic model. This model suggests that the degree of forgetfulness is fairly affected by the duration of time since the occurrence of a particular event (Bohannon & Symons, 1992; Christian, 1989; McCloskey, Wible, & Cohen, 1988; Pillermer, 1984). Autobiographical memories have been related to flashbulb memories due to the influence of emotions on the two (Conway, 1990; Nigro & Neisser, 1983; Robinson, 1980) and impacts on FBM generation and retention. Brown and Kulik (1977) and Conway et al (1994) have however, explained that previous models may lack the capacity to explain the effect of emotions on FBM. Thesis statement

Photographic Model of FBM

The conception of a hypothetical model of FBM generation and retention as formulated by Brown and Kulik (1977) concurred with the earlier findings of Livingston (1967) who suggested that the occurrence of an event should be unexpected and has the capacity to cause astonishment. This was in opposition of the fact that expected, habitual and routine events do not lead to surprises, hence FBM is inexistent. In addition, Brown and Kulik (1977; 85) proposed that the number of times the event is rehearsed either during conversations or covert rehearsal, serves to lengthen the memory. Repetition influences FBM by first reinforcing the thoughts about the event and secondly, adjusts the content entailed in the flashbulb memory. Finkenauer et al (1998) as cited in Grice (1975) supports this by revealing that regular conversations about the occurrence gradually lead to development of a story that fulfills the demands of the situation. The authors cited above sought to explain the theories using examples of political assassinations.

Comprehensive model of FBM -capitalize key words

Conway et al (1994) examined the factors that lead to FBM. They carried out extensive FBM tests to explain the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister. Their findings concurred with those of Brown and Kulik (1977); that FBM generation determinants involve astonishment, emotions and the position a person holds in the society and FBM retention (rehearsal). Conway and his team contributed significantly by extending proposals by Brown and Kulik which revealed that previous knowledge of the political career of Margaret Thatcher and her ideologies were of immense significance in FBM generation. The utilization of the incoming information is greatly influenced by prior knowledge of the facts.

FBM and Emotion

Despite the association of emotion with subjective state of mind, scholars along that line have proposed that the concept encompasses multiple facets which include the components that: process information, respond and control emotions (Oatley & Jenkins, 1996). Previous studies have revealed that cognitive evaluation is the initial process in the study of emotions. Smith (1993) suggests that every event that is taking place can be assessed using both internal and external information scans to determine the extent to which an occurrence contributes to its own survival. Personal attributes such as self belief have significantly influenced the evaluation process (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). The dimensions of evaluation as proposed by Leventhal and Scherer (1987) include, coping potential, valence, novelty, agreement with individual values and goal conductiveness. Similar proposals have arisen from authors such as Smith (1993) and Frijda (1986); who proposed that the results of an evaluation process are influenced by individual relevance, preparedness and adaptability to the environment.

The role of appraisal and subjective response in FBM-capitalize key words

The earlier models which were formulated to explain FBM failed to explicitly distinguish between emotional states and emotional evaluations. Brown and Kulik (1977) wrote that evaluated novelty and people’s unpreparedness to the initial event introduce a feeling of astonishment. The appraisal of novelty was not well assessed by the studies carried out earlier despite its significance in photographic model. Appraisal of novelty creates room for the assessment of the consequences of the initial event. However, the difference between consequentiality of the appraisal and the depth of emotional state was not clearly outlined by Brown and Kulik. Conway et al (1994), on the other hand, failed to consider the evaluation of novelty. This is based on the view that as per the emotion models, the evaluation of personal influence has a significance effect on effective response.

The emotional integrative theory of FBM reveals that the initial appraisal is based on personal consequentiality and novelty. The evaluation of novelty causes a reaction of astonishment while the appraisal of individual significance and the surprise level influence the intensity of emotions. The comprehensive model proposes that significance, emotions and rehearsal are equally influenced by individual attributes for instance the affective attitude extended towards the royal family.

Similarities between the three theories of FBM

The three theories highlighted above agree on the variables that affect FBM. The variables assessed here are: the response of surprise on getting the news about the initial event, the evaluation of consequentiality, intensity of emotions and rehearsal. These variables, however, characterize new situations that a person is confronted with unexpectedly (Schmidt, 1991). There could be a similarity between memorizing a new situation and FBM generation and retention. The three theories also presume that the new or unexpected occurrences initiate FBMs and this approach has adaptational significance (Brown & Kulik, 1977; Conway, 19995). This approach concurs with Tulving and Kroll (1995) who formulate the novelty-encoding perspective, which exemplifies the importance of novelty in encoding retention of information within the long-term memory.

According to this approach, the higher the intensity of novelty, the more the information generated and hence the higher the level of efficiency and adaptive importance of the encoding process. This approach reveals that the capacity of the encoding mechanism and retention in the long-term memory contributes to the successful modification. Finally, the photographic and emotional- integrative theories clearly suggest the evaluation of novelty results in surprise.

Special cases of FBM

The model adopted by Finkenauer, Gisle and Luminet (1997) took into account original responses to occurrences and interpersonal emotional responses. They proposed that emotions and their impact are crucial in the generation and retention of FBM. This model has been explained by the participants who took part in a study carried out to establish the FBM after the death of King Baudoin of Belgium which took place on July 30, 1993 following a heart attack. King Baudoin died at the age of sixty two years in his residential house in Spain at around 9:30 p.m. The news was announced the following day morning to the astonishment of the Belgian people; who had been ruled by Baudoin for 42 years. Baudoin had played a significant impact in unifying a country that is deeply split by cultural and linguistic disagreements between the Walloon and Flemish people. The day that followed his death had 60% coverage in the French speaking newspapers. Half a year later a survey was conducted to determine the memories of that particular day on Belgian people. 55% of the participants revealed that it was the event that impacted very heavily within that particular year (Litts, 1993).

Litts revealed that the impact that this death had on French speaking Belgian people had similar resemblance to the emotional trauma suffered by the Americans following the assassination of the popular and charismatic President, J. F. Kennedy on November 22nd 1963. This event occurred in Dallas Texas and it resulted in an extraordinary, strong and widely spoken FBM. 99% of the participants in this survey which was done 13 years later revealed that the respondents were able to remember their location when the news was announced, how they knew about the event, activities they were taking part in at the time and other people’s reactions towards the news.

However, this assassination was not the sole cause of flashbulb memories but was later followed by President Kennedy’s brothers Robert, Ted and later US President Gerald Ford and Spanish General Francisco Franco. These other events also recorded significant memories in people’s minds. In America, the black respondents showed significantly high levels of FBM for crusaders of civil rights of the disadvantaged, poor and racially discriminated people. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were examples of such leaders; a situation that reveals that occurrences that have greater consequences and vital in the eyes of people lead to advanced FBM. From the cases cited above, all events experienced FBM quality and did not necessarily possess national outlook (Finkenauer, Gisle & Luminet 1997).

The memory surrounding the death of former French President F. Mitterrand has also been assessed by Finkenauer, Luminet and Gisle (2001). The assessment sought to establish flashbulb memories following the death of President Mitt and its impact on the emotional and social influences across diverse social groups. The findings of this study revealed that the French recorded higher FBM attributes compared to the Belgian people.

Emotional factors of FBMs

The studies carried out by Brown and Kulik (1977) emphasized on formation and retention of FBMs through establishing the link between memory and feelings. Different people have different experiences due to diverse levels of consequentiality attributed to particular events. Livingston (1967) proposed the concept of biological importance in consequentiality and Brown and Kulik studies are an execution of the same. An evolutionary approach reveals that certain occurrences can be influential for the existence of species; other can have less impact while others can impact on the safety of people either positively or negatively. People have a tendency to respond according to the consequence of their appraisal of the likely harm or enhancement portrayed in a particular event. FBM emerge when an occurrence is appraised according its consequences or its significance to people which leads to diverse encoding; leading to a long-lasting and more vivid memory for the occasion (Brown & Kulik, 1977; Guy & Cahill, 1999).



Social factors of FBMs

Wright and Gasket, (1995) as cited in Finkenauer, Luminet and Gisle (2001) uses a different approach to explain FBMs by stressing the impact of social factors. The secondary literature on collective memory proposes that FBMs occur as outcomes derived from shared experiences taking place in the social contexts (Bellelli, 1999; Pennebaker, Paez & Rime, 1997). The people’s sharing and repeated conversation about an occurrence that involved the public influence the content and the details of the memory. The more significant and emotional a certain event is for the people, the more it is likely to be rehearsed (Finkenauer, Luminet & Gisle, 2001). It is therefore on this argument that public experiences are considered in conformity with emotional concerns and preferences of the category of people that they belong (Jodelet, 1998).


From the literature cited above, FBMs are not special mechanisms of retaining information but are a result of common mechanisms of retaining memories. However, the detailed information that forms the FBMs, their clarity and ability to last long propose that a specifically efficient interpretation occurred. FBMs are durable and clear; an indication that they are comprehensive and broad representations which have the capacity for veracity and “pastness” (Conway, 1995; Conway et al, 1996). The novelty of an event is a continuum and it starts from experienced to novel. The initial causes of FBMs are placed at the end of novelty, thus leading to effective encoding of the occurrence. An evolutionary approach reveals that encoding of novelty is basic towards successful modification to the surroundings. However, this does not agree with the models on emotions (Finkenauer et al, 1998as cited in Frijda, Kuipers & Ter Schure, 1989). The emotional result, search and rehearsal leads to successful modification, which entails retention of vital information in the long-run.

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