Have you ever used the phrase I remember like it happened yesterday? I know I sure have. I have some memories which are over ten years old, but I remember more details about that memory than what I did this morning. I remember it was my first year of graduation, I had an exam the next day and as usual, I would study last minute so I woke up early morning to study for the exam. I woke up to the 26/11 news. I was horrified by the news, and I was worried sick about my friends from Mumbai. I swear to god I remember that moment in such detail as if my mind took a mental picture of it.
Now is that possible? And if so then why can’t we remember things we want to? Why do we specifically remember things clearly that have affected us greatly in some way or the other?
Flashbulb memories are in reference to your memories for the circumstances in which you first learned about a very surprising and emotionally arousing event. People believe that they can recall such a moment accurately and remember minute details about what they were doing at the time of the event. What happens here is a special kind of automatic encoding that takes place when the unexpected event in a person’s life has strong emotional association such as fear, horror, or joy. This emotional reaction triggers the release of hormones that have been shown to enhance the formation of long term memories.
These memories are clearer than ordinary memories, but they are too subjected to change over time. Though as convincingly real as they might seem, flashbulb memories are bound to decay and alter over time like any other memory. Sir Frederic Bartlett, famously known for his book ‘Remembering’ includes an experiment called ‘The War of Ghosts’. The War of Ghosts was a tale that was read out to the participants in the experiment and they were told to retell the story multiple times at extended intervals. Over a long interval of time between reading the story and remembering it, participants were less accurate and forgot much of the information from the story. What we learnt from his experiment was how the brain remembers. Instead of reproducing facts or stories verbatim, people tend to construct them, leaving out details or including new ones based on schemas or personal experience. It demonstrated the reconstructive nature of memory. And flashbulb memories are no exception to this.
More often than you can imagine, that bright clear picture of an important event in your life has been edited multiple times in your mind over time. So going ahead, let’s not give our moms a hard time for forgetting our exact first words.
Take it easy,
(MA Clinical Psychology, PGD Counselling)